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Half the Size, Double the Life

With arms outstretched, Bob Hamel holds a pair of worn jeans. Just two years ago these jeans – waist size 46 – perfectly fit his 5-foot-5-inch, 289-pound frame.

Today? Two Bobs would fit in those pants, one in each leg. At a fit 140 pounds, he now wears jeans with waist size 30. "I feel fantastic," he says. "I don't know the last time that I felt this good. It's pretty nice, too, when you can go to the doctor and hear praise."

Me? Morbidly obese?

For Bob, the moment of reckoning happened in the doctor's office in 2007. During an appointment at Sanford West Fargo, Bob saw a description that surprised him.

"The words 'morbidly obese' really hit me," says the 57-year-old. "To me, 'morbid' meant I won't be around much longer – I was a heart attack waiting to happen. It scared the heck out of me."

Morbidly obese is a medical term indicating a body mass index greater than 40. Bob also had several medical conditions that often accompany obesity: diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and worsening asthma.

Bob took action. Worn down from years of yo-yo dieting, he asked his doctor about weight-loss (bariatric) surgery. "I was ready for this," he says. "And that's the key. You have to be ready because there's more to it than surgery."

Success begins early

Under the care of Dr. Luis Garcia, board certified weight-loss surgeon at Sanford, Bob qualified for laparoscopic (minimally invasive) gastric bypass surgery – one of three surgical options offered at Sanford.

On Dec. 19, 2007, following several weeks of intensive education by Sanford's weight-loss surgery support team, Bob underwent the successful procedure with no complications and a rapid recovery. Sanford's lengthy record of safety and results explains its standing as a nationally designated Bariatric Surgery Center of Excellence.

"Everything went just as I expected. The pounds fell off – five or six a week," says Bob, who was well prepared for success. He took to heart every ounce of information and required reading offered to him. He read the "bariatric binder" cover-to-cover twice. "I followed the program to a T," he says. "I really wanted this to work."

The path to a changed life

Bob still loves to eat, but in much smaller quantities. "Before, I could never push the plate away," he says. "Now I stop as soon as I feel full – and these days it doesn't take much. I also use a smaller plate – that's something I learned from the dietitians."

He also discovered the value of changing routines. As a safety trainer at Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, he travels frequently. "Every time I'd fill up with gas I'd go inside and grab a bag of chips," he says. "Now I don't even go inside the station. I pay at the pump."

One of the biggest changes for Bob has been adding exercise to his daily life – stairs instead of elevators and parking a distance away from doors so he has to walk. He also took up running. "It's relaxing," he says. "A good form of stress management."

The exercise began gradually. "In the months before surgery, I could barely do an eighth of a mile on the treadmill, but I kept at it, adding a little more distance each week," he says. "After the surgery, I could finally go a mile. I was amazed."

He amazed himself again when he ran the half-marathon in the 2009 Fargo Marathon. "After I crossed the finish line I broke down and cried," he says. "I was so proud of what I'd done."

He's accomplished health feats, too: no more diabetes and cholesterol medications and significantly reduced blood pressure medication. And his asthma has improved.

A picture of health

Bob looks out at the backyard of the Fargo home where he and his wife, Lyn, live. He points to their large vegetable garden, the play area for their grandchildren, the bike path that winds through the neighborhood. "I used to be the guy on the deck watching other people exercise," he laughs. "Now I'm out there with them."

Could weight-loss surgery work for you? Come to a free informational seminar and learn more about Sanford's program. "I'd recommend this for anybody who struggles with severe weight issues, but you better want it," says Bob. "This isn't a cure-all, but it's sure a great start to a lifelong process."

Posted Date: January 2011