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The Next Chapter

Sitting on the ground at a campfire … and wondering if she’ll be able to get up again.

Going to a movie theater … and hoping she’ll fit in the seat.

Exercising in a gym … and wanting to quit because of the staring, the silent judgments.

By age 20, Nicki Kinzer had experienced these painful moments and more -- the result of carrying 377 pounds on her 5’11” frame. She suffered back issues, too, including a broken tailbone at age 10 and vertebrae injuries.

“For years I’d tried to get help for my back, but always heard the same thing -- nothing can be done until you lose weight,” recalls Nicki. “I’d go home crying.”

It wasn’t that she hadn’t tried. Since age 6, she’d been on diets of all kinds, but none brought permanent change. By sixth grade, she wore size 16. Shortness of breath and difficulty moving affected her, too.

Despite severe obesity, Nicki participated in school and activities -- but not fully. “I always had that self-consciousness that kept me from doing things I really wanted to do,” she says. “I knew my life could be better…”

A glimmer of hope

At 17, Nicki again sought help for her increasing back pain. She heard the usual recommendation, then something more: “There’s a surgery that can help.

Over the next three years, Nicki learned all she could about weight loss surgery. In 2009, when she was a junior at Minnesota State University Moorhead, she took a major step: attended the free weight loss surgery informational session at Sanford in Fargo.

“That seminar was awesome! They explained their entire program,” she says. “I was impressed with all the steps involved -- the preparation, the nutrition classes, the dietitian visits. I took it very seriously because I knew these steps would help in the long run. Anybody can lose weight the first six months after surgery, but after that, it’s your actions that count.”

A nationally designated Bariatric Surgery Center of Excellence, Sanford offers proven results, surgical expertise and lifelong support. But it wasn’t just the quality and completeness of the program that drew Nicki.

“I was treated as a real person with a real problem,” she says. “I also appreciated that Dr. Fabian answered every single one of my questions. He assured me I was not too young for this surgery.” Dr. Matthew Fabian is one of three board-certified weight-loss surgeons at Sanford.


On Dec. 17, 2010, Nicki graduated from MSUM. Five days later, the 21-year-old underwent laparoscopic (minimally invasive) gastric bypass surgery performed by Dr. Fabian.

“I was scared, but excited,” says Nicki. “These two major events were the start of my new life.”

Nicki spent one night at Sanford Hospital. With excellent family support, she day-by-day moved through the post-surgery process -- a liquid diet at first, then gradually adding small amounts of healthy, protein-rich foods.

“When your stomach is the size of a walnut and you get sick from sweets, it’s a little easier,” she says.

The weight came off rapidly. Even more remarkable? How Nicki peceived herself. In a letter to Dr. Fabian and his team a year later, she wrote: “The surgery started a whole new chapter in my life. After the first 50 pounds came off, I started feeling more confident. Then the second 50 came off and I felt like a brand new woman. Now I’m working on my third 50 and I feel like I can do anything. I feel absolutely amazing! Thank you for this life-changing event.”

Turn the page

Energized and enthusiastic, Nicki describes her life today, including:

    * An internship at an ad agency in St. Cloud, Minn. -- a perfect fit with her mass communications/advertising degree. “Now when I go into job interviews, I’m not afraid to smile, be my best and shine,” she says. “Before I felt judged on how I looked. Now they see my graphic design and advertising work.”
    * The gift of exercise! “It’s the best stress reliever. Now when I’m stressed, I sweat it out,” she says. “Before, I’d just eat.” She works out at the gym, plays volleyball and loves hip-hop dance class.
    * Great times with loved ones. “My family is very outdoorsy -- fishing, hunting, camping,” says Nicki. “Now I can run up and down the campsite without getting out of breath.”

And that longstanding back pain? Significantly reduced. “It isn’t totally gone, but at least now I’d be a candidate for treatment,” she says.

Her whole life ahead of her, Nicki has not once regretted weight loss surgery. “Every single day I’m so happy I made this decision,” she says. “It’s not always easy, but so worth it. Life today is better than I ever imagined it would be.”

Posted Date: February 2012