Mary’s Incredible Journey

As human beings, we seem to have an innate need to see our lives in terms of a series of beginnings and endings, and we tend to mark those events well. Births, deaths, marriages, graduations – we create big celebrations, we send gifts, we talk about reaching closure.

Like many other people who have achieved massive weight loss, Mary thinks about her life from a different perspective. Though her career as a Registered Nurse ended over 6 years ago due to a series of health issues, and though she’ll begin a new experience leading her first Sacramento weight loss surgery support group this weekend, she sees these events as all part of her very personal journey.Now that I’m unable to work,she said,this is what I’ll do to keep active and help others. It’s just a next step for me.

marymichael - 2002Mary with her husband Michael in 2002, before gastric surgery.
marymichael - 2007Mary and Michael today.

Weight Issues, Health Issues

Luckily for others in Northern California, Mary is willing to be open and share her experiences.I had weight issues all my life,she said. Food was the first thing I thought about when I woke up in the morning and the last thing on my mind when I went to bed.Mary relates that she had a series of emotional upsets to deal with a few years ago, including a diagnosis of pulmonary hypertension (PH). This rare, life-threatening condition caused her chest pain and shortness of breath, and it was what forced Mary to give up most of her activities including her role as a nephrology (kidney dialysis) nurse.

Mary’s physical condition went from bad to worse after her PH diagnosis. With a sedentary life she put on more weight, finally reaching almost 260 pounds.The more weight I put on, the more miserable I was,Mary said.The final straw was when I was diagnosed with diabetes. Working with kidney patients for so long; I had told myself I will just die if I ever get diabetes. I did not want to be headed for that dialysis chair, seeing them amputate limb after limb.Mary discovered to her horror that she was not only diabetic; her condition was out of control. She started researching bariatric surgery immediately, and decided to have a vertical sleeve gastrectomy with Dr. Paul Cirangle of Laparoscopic Associates of San Francisco.

New Body, Old Skin

By last fall, Mary had lost about 100 pounds. She had prepared herself to expect saggy skin as the pounds dropped away, but she admitted it was nonetheless frustrating.I lost over 100 pounds and still looked terrible! she said. I had told myself if I were successful I would have plastic surgery, but there was a little part of me that didn’t think I would lose the weight. I thought I would be the one person whose surgery didn’t work, but I’ve since found out everyone thinks that.

If you can’t have plastic surgery and finish the journey,she continued,it’s almost worse than not having lost the weight. You have all this extra skin, and you can’t fit into clothes. You have to buy bigger sizes than you really need and you literally have to tuck skin into your clothes.

Mary found the website for Sacramento plastic surgeon, Dr. David Kaufman, read about surgery after weight loss in Sacramento, and registered for a consultation. Then she saw him speak at the Laparoscopic Associates support group meeting in her area.I knew instantly he was the surgeon for me,she said. As an RN I have worked with doctors both good and bad. I know the difference between excellent care and something else. I could tell Dr. Kaufman would not be talked into a procedure that wasn’t in my best interests.

Maryemily - 1997Mary with her granddaughter, Emily, in 1997
Maryemily - 2007The bathing beauties, Mary and Emily, ten years later.

Surgery After Weight Loss in Sacramento

Mary did try to convince Dr. Kaufman to combine procedures to get more accomplished sooner. “At the age of 58, with my PH diagnosis, I just wanted to get on with my life. But Dr. Kaufman wanted to make sure I lived through all the procedures first. He would not do more than one area at once to minimize the time I spent in surgery.Mary says Dr. Kaufman was very protective of her health. He hand picked the anesthesiologist he felt had the right experience, Dr. Jeff Anderson, and Dr. Anderson called Mary’s PH physician to discuss her condition. Dr. Kaufman also scheduled Mary’s first two surgeries in the hospital rather than in his surgical suite for extra safety.

Mary’s surgery after weight loss process began in early September with a simple blepharoplasty, or eyelid surgery .I was bothered most by my neck, which really did look like a turkey neck. But Dr. Kaufman thought we should do my eyes first. And you know, I realized after the surgery that my peripheral vision actually improved!

From that point on, Mary had about one procedure a month with Dr. Kaufman. According to Mary, he planned her surgeries so that she could still lose a few more pounds and not wish she had waited. Mary had a breast reduction at the end of September to relieve back pain.I had the ‘big girls’ all my life, now I’m very happy with my ‘little girls,’Mary said. She went from about a 42D to a 34B.

Next came Mary’s brachioplasty, or arm lift . After that, Mary had an extended facelift and finally bid her turkey neck goodbye. Abdominoplasty, or tummy tuck , was next. Thigh lift was the most recent surgical milestone, performed in February. Recovery from each surgery was relatively uneventful. I do have scars,she said,there’s no way to avoid them. The way I look at it, I traded skin for scars. The tradeoff is definitely worth it.

Mary - beforeBefore bariatric surgery, Mary topped out at almost 260 pounds.
Mary - afterAfter her facelift, a very happy new Mary in 2007.

Mary’s Journey Continues

Today, Mary is a svelte 136 pounds. Her health has improved, in fact, her PH has stabilized. Though PH is an incurable condition, 15% of patients respond well to medication and I’m lucky enough to be one of those people, Mary said. “Of course I don’t know how long I have, but I hope to live a long time – in my size 3 jeans!

Mary’s husband, Michael, has been with her every step of the way. His love and support made it possible for her make it as far as she has.

When it comes to surgery after weight loss for Sacramento area residents, Mary feels Dr. Kaufman’s practice is the perfect choice. In fact, she noted that from the first person you meet when you walk in the door to the person who helps you to the car after surgery, you feel nothing but warm and safe. And I felt that Dr. Kaufman was excited about this for me,she said.I had not noticed that feeling with other doctors. As we moved through the journey together, I could tell it brought him joy.

I know my journey is not yet over. I will go back to Dr. Kaufman again for some fine tuning at some point, and I look forward to that.