Lois Haran

12/17/09

My Journey to a Blessed Life

All my life I have struggled with weight.  I was successful in keeping it off most of my life but had to deal with hereditary high cholesterol.  I was always physically active doing walking.  When we picked out our house in Queens in 1974, what drew me to it was not so much the house but the Parks Department bicycle path called the Vanderbilt Motor Parkway behind our house because I was able to walk the seven mile round trip from my house to and from Creedmore State Hospital.  

When I went to work for St. John’s University in 1987, I had my first desk job and my butt started to spread.  Oh, I kept walking on my breaks on campus but between the desk job and menopause, my weight started to gain.  Then, in 1995 my family and I were looking to purchase a boat in the Hamptons.  At one point, my husband asked me to join him to look at the layout in the stateroom downstairs.  As I stepped on the two short steps, they collapsed because they were not connected properly.  I felt with all my weight onto my left ankle and it was crushed like a bag of potato chips.  My foot was at an awful angle and dangling.  I was in so much pain.  To make a long story short, I ended up at NYU Medical Center and Dr. Joseph Fetto did a masterful job of reconstructing the comminuted fracture of my ankle.  It took five operations and I was in a wheelchair for close to a year.  During that year I gained another fifty pounds and I was 242 up from 192. I wasn’t allowed any physical activity because of the complexity of the reconstruction of the ankly. I couldn’t do my hiking any more.  My life had changed and I was sedentary.  Then, in 1999 I was going to have the ankle fused hoping that I could get back some mobility.  Unfortunately, pre-admission testing indicated I had had a heart attack.  I ended up at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn and on August 5, 1999 I had a quadruple bypass.  Six months later I was in cardiac rehab.  Oh whoopee, I was down to 225.  I thought the weight would start going off. I joined a local gym, two in fact.  Hey, two is better than one I thought. I had a trainer and I was also swimming.  But the weight wouldn’t go off.  My metabolism was shot.  I tried every diet and gimmick out there.  I measured and diaried everything but nothing was working!  I was so stressed out!

Then, in 2003, I received my first ICD (Implantable Cardiac Defibrullator) due to a slow heart beat.  When I left St. Francis that time, I have a “good bag” of prescriptions which I would later call my “witch’s brew” of new heart medications.  My blood pressure was sky high (stroke level), my cholesterol levels made my blood look like sludge. I had undiagnosed sleep apea, incontinence. I had so many side effects from the medications that I really felt like I was just counting the days until I was six feet under.  I was bloated and looked like a beached walrus ready to give birth.  I had no energy.  I was short of breath.  My weight kept gaining even though I was working out.  Then came the day when I simply did not have the strength to work out.  I was at another stint of cardiac rehab at Queens Hospital cardiac rehab when the nurse monitoring me told me to stop because my blood pressure was at stroke level. I called my cardiologist and his associate told me to immediately stop the rehab.

I felt so defeated.  My once active life had stopped.  Is this what it means to be a heart patient.  I went into “prepare for death mode”.  My father had heart disease and I know how active he was all his life and how miserable his last years were both physically and psychologically because he could not do anything.

In addition, my husband has always been a night person and to this day eats at 9:30 p.m. He has his cocktail at 8:30 and then dinner and of course, dessert.  He stays up until 1:30.  He would always brag to my cardiologist that he was so fit.  I never could eat that late but I did so just to accommodate him. In the meantime, he would call me all sorts of hurtful names calling me a “stupid fat pig”.  He would come into the room and make me open my mouth to see if I had any food in it.  He had absolutely no conception of what I was going though.  He saw my continuing fight with obesity and heart disease as a lost cause and it was all my own fault and constantly tell me so.  All during this time I was working full time and taking care of the house.  Well, as much hourseork as I could do because I couldn’t keep the house nice and neat because I had no strength.  I wasn’t able to do it.

Then on Martin Luther King Day in January 2006, I was in my bedroom and had tears running my cheeks.  Here I was constantly falling down because of my weight.  I had to always use a cane.  I was now wearing heavy elastic stockings because my legs were so swollen.  I couldn’t exercise.  I couldn’t walk.  I couldn’t bend over.  Because of the weight I was incontinent and I had undiagnosed sleep apnea. I was ready to die.  I saw the end of my life coming.

In April 2006 I drove my husband to see Dr. Joseph Fetto at NYU for his visit.  Dr. Fetto asked my husband where I was and he told him that I was downstairs in the car because I could not face him because of how much weight I had put on.  Dr. Fetto gave my husband the pamphlet for the NYU Langone Weight Loss Program.  He told him about Dr. Christine Ren and Dr. George Fielding and said they were the leaders in the US for this minimally invasive procedure.  Well, my husband gave me the pamphlet.  Unknown to my husband, I had been researching the lap band procedure for several years.  We both, in fact, had been to visit a doctor who I nicknamed “Dr. Slice and Dice” in a hospital near us about the procedure.  This doctor was into bypass and when I saw the patients in his office, I just wanted to get out of there.  After listening to his schpiel, he said he had done four lap band procedures and it was new.  I couldn’t wait to get out of his office.  It was if he was a used car salesman. So I went on the internet to further research the lap band procedure and find a good doctor.  After two years, I gave up because I couldn’t find anyone I thought competent.  Funny, I was more scared of the lap band procedure than I was about the quad-pass.  It’s something about your guts. 

I waited a month.  I had the pamphlet in my purse all this time.  Then one day in May 2006 I took it out.  I went on their website.  I called Tammy and made an appointment for the obligatory seminar.  My husband and my younger son, Michael, went with me.  I was impressed with the chair in the amphitheater’s room because I was able to sit in them.  I was so big.  I was so out of breath getting from our car which was around the corner.  My blood pressure was so high I thought I would pass out.  Then this handsome guy shows up at the podium with the Australian accent and introduced him.  “I’m Dr. George Fielding.”  He said Dr. Ren could not attend the seminar because she was in surgery.  He then went on for about an hour and a half about the history of obesity with an excellent PowerPoint presentation.  No script.  No notes.  Then he said he had had the same procedure done on him and showed us pictures and explained his history with obesity.  He was so down to earth.  No phoney-baloney.  He really believed in this procedure.  I started to see a ray of hope.  Maybe it wasn’t my time to die after all.  But would it work?  Would my insurance company, Oxford Freedom Select, cover it.  What about my ICD? 

Well, after he gave his talk there was a question and answer period.  Yes, most insurance companies pay for it and if not, they had a payment plan.  (Luckily, the next day I found out that Oxford firmly believes in the procedure and would cover it.  Wow!) Then my son, Michael, asked how would they handle the ICD during my surgery.  They would have a cardiac team there to turn off the ICD during the procedure and monitor me and turn it back on.  That light at the end of the tunnel started to brighten.

When we left the seminar, my son and husband were impressed with Dr. Fielding’s presentation and firmly believed in him.  The next day, as I told you, I checked with Oxford and yes, they cover the procedure.  I called to make the obligatory appointments with the psychologist and nutritionist.  I couldn’t wait for the procedure.  Time seemed to go so slowly that summer of 2006.  I practiced my healing meditations that I used with my reconstruction of my left ankle and quad bypass.

I had my pre-op exams and then I met with Dr. Fielding.  He assured me I would be off most of the heavy duty medications I was presently on within one year.  At that time I was on ten or twelve heavy duty slam dunk medications.  He said that right after the surgery the weight would start coming off.  I would feel a release of all that stress.  He said he had seen people with orthopedic injuries such as mine gain this weight.  In addition, the heart medications.  He emphasized that it was crucial to have regular post op appointments to monitor my weight loss.  He was so right about this because in the past three years I have met people who have gained weight even with the band, because they do not stay “in the zone” and keep eating or drinking high caloric foods. 

The Start of My Journey! 

I was scheduled for October 2, 2006.  I started the SlimFast two weeks before my procedure. My son, Michael, drove me to NYU the morning.  I was listening to Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” on his IPod.  I learned from my sons that Pink Floyd is very good to relax to before and after surgery 

We were impressed how the whole operating team came in to talk to me.  Not just the anesthesiologist but also the cardiac team. They weighed me and in two weeks I had lost ten pounds.  My son asked if I wanted to back out and just use the SlimFast.  I said, “No. This is my journey.”  I was scared inside but put on a big smile because I believed in Dr. Fielding.  

Well, just 45 minutes later Dr. Fielding told me to wake up.  I couldn’t believe how fast it went.  I was in recovery for about 12 hours because of my heart and then to my room.  It was then that the nurse asked if I had been diagnosed with sleep apea and I realized I did have it but I refused the breathing mask.

Day Two:  I went home.  My husband picked me up.  It was a sunny day.  Of course, he stopped into Entermans on Queens Boulevard and bought a whole bunch of glow in the dark baked goods for himself.  I was tired but felt good.  That evening I took a Tylenol and went to bed for a good rest. The next day my abdomen felt as if I had done 100 sit-ups but I just took a Tylenol.  I stayed home for five days but felt great. 

Oh, what a beautiful ride!

The past three years have flown by!  As Dr. Fielding said, the stress just went away.  I started regularly losing weight.  I strictly watched my post-op monthly visits with my fine tuner, Gaspar.  I bought a Jack LaLaine juicer just because it was on sale but it proved to be so useful.  I started juicing vegetables and fruits to get my fiber.  I ended up giving up meat and just have fish and vegetables.  I love soups!  There is something spiritual about a pot of soup on the back burner.  I learned to read my body for when it was actually hungry. I eat the equivalent on one meal a day. I eat small portions.  My “window for eating” is 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.  My husband had to learn that I wasn’t able to eat a late dinner.  He still eats late but I don’t care!  I now eat to live, not live to eat.  I’m now in tune with my body.  I have learned to relax my body and not tense up or else my band tightens.  But that same relaxation technique has helped me deal with my husband’s health.  I work very hard now not to let him stress me out.  I’ve learned to observe not only our relationship but my own self.   

In addition, I learned from Dr. Fielding that my love of cooking is in the preparation and entertaining and is not lost when we have the lap band.  I still have my cookbooks and read them but now it is for my creativity and self fulfillment, not to eat.  I love feeding people—not myself.  I have learned to savor, not gobble. 

I changed cardiologists.  As I was losing the weight, I started to really feel lighted from all those medications.  I was weighing less and needed adjustments to the amount of medications.  My now former cardiologist was pleased with my weight loss but wouldn’t change the amount of medications I was on.  Finally in August 2008, after really feeling faint he said I had vertigo. Sure, Doctor.  I went to my ENT doctor and after an examination said I did not have vertigo but I was over medicated.  I asked if he could recommend a good cardiologist.  He recommend his own mother’s cardiologist who was in my group.  The next week I met with him and lo and behold, he agreed I was on too much medication and immediately started weaning me off the 10-12 heavy duty medications and I am presently only on five mininal dosage medications.

I gave away my fat clothes to the Goodwill dumpster on campus.  I won’t forget the day I threw out my “coffin dress”.  It was a beautiful turquoise beaded dress that I had in the closet but was too fat to wear.  I figured I’d keep it for my coffin and the undertaker could let it out in back for me to fit in it.  The day I threw it out, was an emancipation.  My ear lobes even got thinner.  I lost two shoe sizes.  No more elastic stockings.  Before the procedure I was a size 3X.  I am now a size eight in slacks and a medium to large on top, depending the cut of the blouse.  I rarely use my cane any more.  The only reason I use it now is because I’ve walked too much for my ankle or to use it in the grocery store to get that high up box of cereal or paper towels.

I’ve had no bad side effects.  I did get night cough a year ago but I realize that it is simply a darn post nasal drip that would irritate my band.  After an adjustment, it went away.  When Dr. Fielding said my ideal weight would be 155, I couldn’t believe it.  Then, in August 2008 I went down to 144 and had to gain ten pounds.  Gaspar made an adjustment to my band to loosen it and it was hard, but I did manage to gain ten pounds in six months.  So I am now between 155-157.  No more. 

August 5, 2009 would have been my tenth anniversary of my quad bypass.  Most bypass patients have to get further heart surgery ten years after the first bypass.  This past March 2009 my blood pressure suddenly spiked up.  My new cardiologist did a three-month long series of heart tests. In June, after my angiogram he said my heart is now stronger than it was five years ago!  Tada!  Oh, and my cholesterol is now finally in a safe, healthy range.  All of this due to the lap band procedure because it was the tool that allowed me to lose the weight, change my eating habits and get back my life.  It seemed as if God was saying, “You’ve had ten years now of healing.  Now go on to the next ten years of enlightenment.”  I have so much energy now!.  I can bent over. I can move.  I enjoy life.

Thank you Dr. Fielding and Gaspar!

Lois Haran