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A Journey Toward Health

A few years ago, Laura Fjellestad’s two closest friends were worried about her health and her future.

She was gaining weight and had not visited a regular doctor in years. They were frightened about the possibility of losing their friendship with the 42-year-old Sioux Falls woman, and decided to stage an “intervention,” pleading with her to do some medical testing for her own sake.

“I had quit being mindful of my body, my eating, it was just too much work,” says Laura. “They knew that I deserved better and really, my body deserved being thought about.”

Friends who cared

Walking through the park where she’ll get married in a few weeks, Laura says she’s certain that her friends’ concern saved her life. After making lifestyle changes that helped her drop 170 pounds and improve her health, she’s so grateful that they cared enough to gently confront her.

“How can you be angry at someone for caring enough to tell you that you need help? To have friends like this, how did I get to be so lucky?” says Laura, wiping a tear from her eye. “Honestly, I was relieved that somebody had noticed.”

An educator and singer with a vivacious personality, Laura was often too busy to spend much time thinking about what she ate. She knew that when she was under stress or angry, food always made her feel better.

Her health in danger

Between teaching school, singing with a rock band and organizing Sanford camps for children with spina bifida and cancer, her hours were full. However, with a weight of 383 pounds, she had difficulty even moving around.

Laura met in March 2009 with her physician, Dr. Lisa Ellis, from Sanford Clinic Women’s Health Internal Medicine, who spent an hour with her, simply talking about her life and health before running blood tests.

“I don’t know if I’d be here if we hadn’t done those tests,” Laura says. “I was in such a downward spiral and I don’t know when it would have stopped.”

She discovered that she had type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and anemia. Her doctor started her on medication and Laura started working with nutritionist and counselor Mary Dressing, who taught her to think about what she was eating and why.

“I wanted her to just tell me what to do, but she helped me to let me work it out on my own,” Laura said. “She gave me the gift of self discovery.”

Building a new lifestyle

Almost immediately, she began to lose weight. After a few months, she knew it was time to add exercise to her lifestyle. It was a daunting idea after years of inactivity.

“I wouldn’t be able to walk down this sidewalk and still be able to talk like this,” says Laura, as she takes the winding path through the Terrace Park Japanese Gardens.

She began working out regularly, using a personal trainer at first to show her how. Serious exercise sessions four to five times a week, along with a more active lifestyle helped her continue to drop the pounds. She is now working toward a goal of losing 60 more pounds to reach what would be a healthy weight for her body type.

Throughout the whole process, she had the support of support of the staff at Sanford Clinic Women’s Health, including Dressing, Dr. Ellis and internal medicine physician Dr. Janell Powell, who helped her make step-by-step plans to lose and keep the weight off.

Laura says she is pleased to be able to give her summer campers a good example of how to make healthy lifestyle choices, even teaching a class on healthy eating and exercise using herself as an example. She tells them that healthy living means constant work and attention, she said.

“I’m a better teacher, a better camp director, a better friend – everything is just better today,” Laura says. “I want to be the best role model I can.”

Pointing out the rocky arbor where she’ll be getting married, Laura says her upcoming wedding is a celebration of the love she shares with her fiancé, Adam, who has known and loved her since before she lost almost 200 pounds. The ceremony will also celebrate the healthy changes she’s made and their life together to come.

“He’s proud of me and has always seen something beautiful inside me,” Laura said. “I feel like what you see on the outside is starting to match that soul inside. I am very blessed.”

Posted Date: July 2011