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Living in Harmony

Kari Caughey loved the traditional holiday dinner at her mom's: the Christmas tablecloth, the green Tiara plates and goblets, the turkey with all the fixings. Christmas 2006 was just as festive – but pensive, too.

"I kept thinking it was the last Christmas dinner I'd ever enjoy," recalls the 43-year-old. "In less than two months I'd undergo weight-loss surgery."

Kari was ready for change. At 5 feet 3 inches tall and 243 pounds, she'd struggled with weight for years, taking pounds off, then putting them back on – plus a few more.

"I still played softball and stayed active. I liked to think I was heavy but healthy," she says. "But when I needed medication for high blood pressure, it hit me. I wasn't as healthy as I thought."

Life alone?

Another dose of reality came when she pictured her future. Divorced for years, Kari didn't want to spend the rest of her life alone.

"I wanted to believe I'd find someone who loved me for me, not how I looked. But when I got down to the nitty-gritty, I realized what's really attractive is strong people who are comfortable with themselves. That wasn't me," she says. "Weight-loss surgery was my chance to be my best self."

She also considered her three daughters – now 17, 14 and 13. "I wanted to be an example for them – a happy mom who makes good, healthy choices for herself. And I wanted to someday show them a happy marriage, too."

Real change

Kari was familiar with weight-loss surgery. In 1996 her mother underwent the procedure at Sanford in Fargo. She lost weight and gained health.

"Back then, I said never. I insisted I could lose weight on my own," says Kari. "But after 11 years of trying different diets, I finally admitted I needed help."

Following in her mother's footsteps, Kari chose Sanford. In visiting with Dr. Luis Garcia, one of three board-certified weight-loss surgeons at Sanford, she discovered the gastric bypass technique had advanced over the years. The procedure could now be done laparoscopically. Safe and effective, the newer approach leads to a faster, easier recovery.

In summer 2006, Kari took the first steps. Then living in Bemidji, she participated in education sessions with Sanford dietitians in Bemidji and Fargo. "I learned about lifelong changes I'd need to make – smaller portions, chewing food thoroughly and choosing the right foods," she says. "And faithfulness in taking vitamins."

Like all patients preparing for weight-loss surgery, Kari completed a psychological component. "Surgery isn't a magic pill," she says. "You still have stressors in your life, but you learn not to turn to food. Now I play the piano or take a walk instead of overeating."

A late Valentine

Kari's successful procedure took place Feb. 13, 2007. "People felt sorry that I had to be in the hospital on Valentine's Day, but it wasn't a problem. I didn't have a Valentine anyway," she says.

After eight months and a 105-pound weight loss, cupid came calling. Kari posted her profile on and met Steve, a Park Rapids, Minn., father of five. Like Kari, he valued faith and family above all else.

And looks? "He sees old photographs and can't believe that's me," she says. "Sometimes I can't believe it either." Comfortable with her smaller self, Kari feels like she did in high school, including healthy blood pressure without medication.

In April 2009, Kari and Steve married and now live in Park Rapids. With their blended family, they look forward to a big, chaotic Christmas.

And the traditional holiday meal? "I skip the stuffing, but enjoy everything else," says Kari. "And I'm lucky that Steve likes to cook. He makes a mean pumpkin pie!"

Posted Date: January 2011