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Happiness Is

To her clients she was Sandra Vigen, that outgoing, well-dressed professional who sold yellow-pages advertising. But only Sandra knew what happened moments before she entered their office.

"I stood outside the door trying to catch my breath. I was so winded after walking from my car," she says. "I thought, 'I don't want to be like this.'"

A long battle

Sandra had fought weight for years, trying every kind of diet. The pounds always came back.

Four years ago she became so frustrated she stopped dieting entirely, but stayed on track with her full, happy life, both professionally and personally. She and husband Paul live on the banks of the Sheyenne in Horace, N.D., with 6-year-old son Ryan.

Life was good, but that didn't stop excess weight from taking its toll. At 5'2" and 243 pounds, Sandra suffered back problems – and worried about her future health.

"Diabetes and stroke run in my family, and I knew if I didn't do something that'd be me," says the 37-year-old. "I didn't want to live life with regrets – to look back in 10, 15 years and realize what I'd wasted. Plus I wanted to set a good example for Ryan. My big belief is if you don't like something, change it. You're in charge of your destiny."

Surgery? Me?

To Sandra, weight-loss surgery had always seemed right for people with extreme obesity, extreme unhappiness, extreme health problems.

"But that wasn't me," she says. "Then a friend had weight-loss surgery and it got me thinking …"

Sandra began researching the Internet. She also attended a free informational seminar at Sanford. "Very informative," she says. "It really opened my eyes to what my options were."

Sanford Health offers several surgical options – all part of a complete program that includes education, extensive preparation, follow-up support and proven quality. Sanford is a nationally designated Bariatric Surgery Center of Excellence.

Head-turning results

On June 10, 2008, Sandra underwent laparoscopic (minimally invasive) gastric bypass surgery performed by Dr. Luis Garcia, one of three board-certified weight-loss surgeons at Sanford.

"I had surgery on a Tuesday and by the next Monday was back at work," she says. "I was surprised how quickly I healed and how smoothly everything went."

Sandra describes the six months after surgery as a learning curve. "Everything was new, but not unexpected," says Sandra. "Sanford Health's support group was great because you heard other people's stories and learned their strategies for dealing with the same issues you're having."

In nine months, Sandra lost 125 pounds, going from size 24 jeans to her current size 4. To her surprise, heads began to turn. "It's strange because I've never thought of myself as someone you'd turn around and look at," she says.

Sandra's new life is now routine – several small meals a day, adequate protein, daily vitamins, staying active and never eating beyond the point of feeling full.


Ryan runs up to his mom with a soccer ball. "Mom, can we play?" He knows she'll say yes because this past year she's said yes to so many fun things – kayaking, roller-skating, rollerblading. Even simple things like getting in and out of the car have become easier.

"I thought I was happy before," says Sandra. "I had no idea I could be this much happier." Her health has improved, too – lower blood pressure, no more back pain and greater stamina.

And her clients? These days when Sandra calls on them she no longer has to stop and catch her breath before she steps in – but lately they've had to catch theirs.

"They tell me the only thing they recognize is my voice," she says, laughing.

Posted Date: January 2011