There’s one thing people almost always ask weight loss patients. They want to hear about that defining moment that happens for many who battle obesity; the instant they acknowledge it’s time to find a lasting solution to their weight problem. Melinda begins describing her experience this way: You would think the time I got stuck in a chair at a fancy restaurant would be the ‘light bulb’ moment for me. (How I got out of that chair is a story for another time). Or, the time I had to hide my unfastened seatbelt on an airplane fearing the stewardess would say, ‘Here, I’ll give you a seat belt extender.’
Instead of experiencing one bright flash of revelation, in Melinda’s case a lot of little moments eventually added up to her decision to seek bariatric surgery and post weight loss body contouring. In fact, a key tipping point she remembers was another one of those little moments. One day, it dawned on her that unlike others who routinely get in their cars, she was literally dropping herself into her car. That day she said to herself,I am just a blimp.Soon thereafter she came to terms with the fact that, as a super morbidly obese individual, she was headed for an early death. She made the call to a bariatric surgeon in Anchorage, Alaska, the closest option to her town of Valdez, 300 miles away.
Melting into the Background
Melinda grew up in America’s heartland, but her childhood was far from typical. She was raised in a series of foster homes and group homes, mainly separated from her five siblings. At age 10 she even spent some time in a juvenile detention center, housed with girls much older and tougher than she was. The officials were as hard on me as they were on the other girls,she remembers.It was horrifying.
Throughout all she experienced as a youth, Melinda never turned to food as solace.I was a naturally thin, gangly child and teenager,” she says. She discovered faith at a young age, a comforting presence that helped her in difficult times. She also managed by melting into the background in her living situations and playing the class clown in school.I still love to laugh, she says, and she does—her laughter is hearty, honest, and contagious.
From the Midwest to Alaska via Belgium
As she reached adulthood, Melinda’s days in the system were over. She joined the Army and served as a stenographer, spending some time she remembers fondly in Belgium. She married another soldier and moved with him to Alaska in 1972. While she was falling in love with her adopted state, her weight troubles were beginning. She explains,Alaska can be a very challenging place not to gain weight. The long winter nights and the ‘cabin fever’ make it so easy to curl up on the couch and eat, and eat some more
After a daughter was born, Melinda’s marriage ended and her whole life was thrown into crisis. She didn’t drive, didn’t have a job and had virtually no friends or family nearby. She turned to her new church for help, strengthening her involvement with the organization that eventually influenced her to move from Anchorage to Valdez. The beautiful, remote town of 4,500, surrounded by snow-covered mountains and Prince William Sound, became the main character in Melinda’s new life. There, in 1977, she met and married her real and true love, Bob, who works for the firm that services oil tankers at the terminus of the famous Alaska pipeline.
Little House in the North
Melinda and Bob had three more children, and Melinda says she raised her family in true Little House on the Prairie style. She baked almost everything from scratch, sewed for hours and home schooled the young ones. Along with the happy times, she remembers, came extra pounds. A little extra weight hung around after each child was born, and as the kids grew, so did Melinda’s sweet tooth.
Like most overweight people, Melinda tried to lose weight. At one point she dieted and lost over seventy pounds, coming close to her normal weight. Then she suffered a big blow—medical problems required her to be on high doses of steroids for a year. Weight gain is a well-known side effect of steroid medication, and to Melinda, it seemed all the weight she had lost came back almost instantly. Depressed and discouraged, sugar became Melinda’s chief consolation. I was quite the baker by then, and boy did I test a lot of recipes! There was no such thing as one cookie in my world, no, it had to be six. Time passed, and Melinda recalls she baked her way through years of diet frustration and weight gain, interrupted by the latest diet fad. It was a horrible cycle.
No Time to Waste
As Melinda’s weight reached the 333-pound mark and she made the decision to seek bariatric surgery, she also decided she wasn’t going to take any chances the surgery wouldn’t work. She settled on the Roux-en-Y procedure, surgery that would staple a large portion of her stomach shut. I could have chosen a lap band, but they don’t always work for people with a weakness for sweets. I didn’t want to spend months or years finding out. At age 54, I felt I didn’t have time to waste.
Melinda’s January 2006 bariatric surgery worked in more ways than one. Not only did the weight drop away – at the rate of about ten pounds a month—Melinda’s taste for sweets disappeared after surgery. It’s a side effect for a lucky few, a physiological phenomenon Melinda’s bariatric surgeon told her would likely persist as long as she didn’t test it. As far as Melinda’s concerned, it’s goodbye sweets forever. She now leans toward fresh, spicy, crunchy food.
From Weight Loss to Plastic Surgery
Melinda lost weight steadily. From her high point—or low point—of 333 pounds, she lost 163 pounds over the fifteen months after bariatric surgery. As she began to consider post weight loss plastic surgery, Melinda explained there was no question she wanted to improve the look of her face first. It’s not unusual for older women to want a facelift before any other procedure. I looked like everything had melted. I reminded myself of a Shar-Pei dog.
Melinda began looking for a body contouring plastic surgeon. “I research everything,” she laughs. I make flowcharts and all. It took me a month to decide which digital camera to buy. Planning to stay with family to recover, she had Sacramento, Palm Springs, San Diego and Mexico to choose from. Her main goal was to achieve a rejuvenated but natural appearance. I didn’t want that awful pulled look—the Joan Rivers facelift.
She checked Internet resources like www.obesityhelp.com, and she spent time on Dr. David Kaufman’s website. I felt he had a kind, compassionate spirit.She called his office and was encouraged to email the Sacramento plastic surgeon.I thought, ‘Yeah, right, so this busy professional is going to actually reply.’ To Melinda’s astonishment, Dr. Kaufman called her inside an hour.I almost dropped through the floor, she remembers.
From two thousand miles away, Melinda felt enough rapport with Dr. Kaufman to commit to face lift, neck lift and a little nasal fine tuning. With help from Silvia, Dr. Kaufman’s patient care coordinator, the logistics of traveling to Northern California were a breeze to arrange and Melinda was ready with pre- and post-op instructions, supplies and more. In fact, Melinda remembers, someone from Dr. Kaufman’s office even came to pick her up the morning of surgery in August, 2007.I was fully prepared to take a cab, she says,but they wouldn’t hear of it.
Surgery and Beyond
Melinda’s combination facial rejuvenation was a huge success. She could not be more pleased with the outcome, relating that Dr. Kaufman somehow managed to create results that have her looking 20 years younger and completely natural at the same time. She says her friends agree with her assessment. People who haven’t seen me for ages just about faint! I’m a walking billboard for this doctor.
Knowing she needs more surgery to complete her transformation, Melinda is planning more post weight loss plastic surgery in stages and looking forward to seeing Dr. Kaufman for most of it. I’ll be headed back to him for my arms and thighs, she says. And even if I find a surgeon in Alaska who agrees with me about the breast procedure I need, I may still decide to travel to breast lift if that makes sense, with Dr. Kaufman. Melinda says she and Dr. Kaufman discussed her surgical future, and she felt comfortable with the conclusions they shared. Other doctors tend to suggest procedures. He helped guide me toward understanding what I wanted, not what he wanted.
Hope Is the Best of Things
Today Melinda has more reason than ever to laugh. She loves her life in Valdez, especially the summer days filled with light and cool breezes. She’s thankful for her wonderful, faithful, kind husband who taught her how to commit and not walk away when things get hard. She appreciates the new energy she has for her very active grandchildren. And she has newfound joy in her healthy, shapely self. She’s coloring her hair and dressing in more youthful styles.
Melinda is also very happy she chose Dr. Kaufman to be her post bariatric body contouring plastic surgeon. Her first Sacramento meeting with him confirmed what she had learned via email and telephone: he really connects with his patients. She feels the way he treats his patients, with graciousness and kindness, makes him a good match for the weight loss community.
Like many who have made the journey back from obesity and reshaped their body with post bariatric plastic surgery, Melinda feels motivated to share her story with others. On the verge of losing hope in her life more than once, above all else she wants others to know that there’s always reason to hope. She shares her favorite quote from a movie popular many years ago:
“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”