Another Chance



Dean Johnson traveled the country helping banks set up computer systems while his health went deeper and deeper in debt.

“It was eight years of sitting, traveling and bad eating habits,” says the 41-year-old, now a computer systems engineer at Discovery Benefits in Fargo.

He noticed his increasing girth when he squeezed into airplane seats. His dress shirts didn’t button properly. A flight of stairs exhausted him. His knees and hips hurt.

Health issues came next, including high blood pressure, sleep apnea, fatty liver disease and excess iron in his blood. At 279 pounds and 5 feet 7 inches tall, he paid the price for severe obesity.

“I was spending up to $200 a month on medications,” says Dean. “But that’s not what finally made me decide on weight loss surgery.”

He pauses to compose himself, then explains what happened with Gwen, his wife of 20 years, and their son, 10-year-old Dylan.

“They both looked at me and said if you keep getting bigger, we don’t expect you to be here much longer,” he says. “That was tough to hear, but it was exactly what I needed. When you have to talk through life insurance, beneficiaries and getting your house in order, that makes you think.”

Lifesaving change

Over the years, Dean tried various strategies to lose weight including medication and nutritional shakes. He’d drop 20 pounds then gain them back.

In July 2011, at the recommendation of his primary care doctor, Dean and Gwen attended a free weight loss surgery informational seminar at Sanford.

“I always thought I wasn’t big enough for weight loss surgery, but that seminar changed my mind,” says Dean. “It's not just about getting rid of the fat, it’s about getting rid of the costly medical issues. That’s why it’s being recommended more and more. That clicked with me.”

For the next three months, Dean proceeded through every requirement of the Sanford Weight Loss Surgery Program. A nationally designated Bariatric Surgery Center of Excellence, Sanford’s proven program includes extensive education on new eating and exercise habits, a psychiatric evaluation, close follow-up after surgery and lifelong support groups.

“They tell you everything from head to toe, and they tell it to you straight. I like that approach,” says Dean. “I also did my own online research and saw the stupid things people do that defeat the surgery. I was determined to follow the rules and make this work.”

Successful surgery sets the stage

On Oct. 25, 2011, Dean underwent laparoscopic (minimally invasive) gastric bypass surgery performed by Dr. Luis Garcia, one of three board-certified weight loss surgeons at Sanford in Fargo.

Two weeks later Dean returned to work, carefully following every instruction to ensure good healing. He also wanted to avoid all potential side effects including “plugging,” which can occur when food lodges in the small opening leading to the stomach.

“I only had one incident of plugging and that taught me,” he says. “I learned exactly why the dietitians tell you to chew thoroughly, put your fork down between every bite, and use a small plate to keep portion sizes down.”

Smaller clothes, bigger life

Within a year, Dean and Gwen together could fit in one pair of the size 48 pants he previously wore. At 150 pounds, Dean today wears size 30 jeans.

His transformed life includes:

  • Energy to walk, climb stairs, even run. “I can even chase my son around,” he says.
  • More fun with family, including a 3-year-old foster daughter. “We even started camping,” he says.
  • No more medical conditions. Dean’s only daily medication is vitamins.
  • “It was a happy moment when my lab results showed every number in the normal range,” says Dean.

    See what you gain when you lose

    If you struggle with weight, you owe it to yourself to explore your options. Call Sanford Eating Disorders & Weight Management Center at (701) 234-4111 or (800) 437-4010, ext. 4111.

    “I’m alive,” says Dean. “When you start where I did, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

    Posted Date: February 2013

    Another Chance

    As the pounds piled on, so did the medical conditions. At age 40, Dean Johnson knew he needed lifesaving change.