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Less is More

When little Isabella grows up and scrolls through old photos, she might point to two people she doesn't quite recognize.

"Mom, was that really you?" she might ask. "Dad, I can't believe you ever looked like that."

And then her parents, Jason and Tiffany Anderson of Moorhead, will tell her the story of one remarkable year.

A heavy burden

Jason already weighed 252 pounds at age 12. He tried dieting, but the weight kept coming back – and more. By 2007, at age 36, he'd broken his right foot three times – the result of weighing 417 pounds. He had back and knee pain, needed daily insulin shots for diabetes, and took medication to control blood pressure and cholesterol.

"I was a mess and didn't think I'd make it to 60," says the Minnesota State University Moorhead communication studies professor. "My doctor mentioned weight-loss surgery and said Sanford Health had a world-class program. I decided no more excuses."

Tiffany's decision came in May 2008. She lay in a hospital bed recovering from a second back surgery to treat a ruptured disc. She knew her 322 pounds was hard on her back, but diets hadn't worked and exercise was difficult.

"My doctor came in after the back operation and point blank asked if I'd ever considered weight-loss surgery," she recalls. "That really got my attention."

Preparing for long-term success

A free no-obligation informational seminar introduced Tiffany and Jason to Sanford's program. They met staff, learned about Sanford's results and discovered long-term success involved more than surgery. Sanford's program includes extensive education and counseling before surgery and continued support after – an approach backed by research.

For Tiffany, the preparation phase raised key issues. "I had to figure out why I used food to self-medicate and what I'd do instead," she says. "I learned surgery isn't a cure-all, but a tool. You have to do your part to make it work."

In the months leading up to surgery, the Andersons attended Sanford's weight-loss surgery support group – and still do. "You hear from people who had this surgery 10 years ago and continue to do well," says Jason. "You have a chance to voice your fears and learn how others have handled those issues. It's priceless."

Jason's laparoscopic (minimally invasive) gastric bypass surgery took place December 2008; Tiffany's took place four months later. Dr. Luis Garcia, one of three board-certified weight-loss surgeons at Sanford, performed both successful procedures.

Life after surgery

Today Jason and Tiffany lead active lives, including exercise four times a week. "The surgery gives you a jumpstart on weight loss. That makes it so much easier to be active," says Tiffany. She has no trouble running up a flight of stairs and easily keeps up with Isabella, their busy 2½-year-old.

For Jason, it's a relief not to be hungry all the time. "It used to take two large pizzas to fill me up," he says. "Now I eat small amounts several times a day and sometimes have to remind myself to eat. With the smaller stomach, it doesn't take much to feel full."

At weights of 259 and 191, Jason and Tiffany have lost nearly 300 pounds together. Their health has improved dramatically. Tiffany no longer struggles with back pain. Jason no longer needs insulin, blood pressure medication or cholesterol medication. Their weight goals are 180 and 140 pounds.

Would it work for you?

For some, weight-loss surgery is the path that leads away from chronic disease, disability and premature death. For others, it's about a new life of health and physical activity. For Jason and Tiffany, it was all that and more.

"I'd love to go to an amusement park and ride the roller-coaster," says Tiffany. "I think I'd finally fit into one of those seats."

Says Jason: "I'd like to be able to ride a bike without hurting. And I'd sure like to be around to walk Isabella down the aisle."

Posted Date: January 2011