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Slimming Down, Revving Up

Carolyn Motl stood at the bottom of the stairs of her apartment building, dreading the 17-step climb. At 250 pounds, she’d have to stop halfway up to rest.

But the health problems that began in her 30s weighed her down even more -- the high cholesterol, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, shortness of breath and constant tiredness.

“I felt so isolated. I wasn’t even comfortable in my own skin,” says the 45-year-old from Moorhead, Minn. “I knew weight loss would help, but I couldn’t get there on my own. I’d try different diets, lose 5 or 10 pounds, then gain it all back.”

She tried exercise, too, knowing it could help her depression and fibromyalgia. “But physical exertion hurt,” she says. “So I comforted myself with food. It was a vicious cycle.”

Running out of options, she discovered inspiration close to home. Her sister had pursued weight-loss surgery years ago and it changed her life. Could it work for Carolyn?

Careful consideration

For four years Carolyn considered the pros and cons of weight-loss surgery. “I knew surgery alone wasn’t the answer,” she says. “It’s the tool that starts a lifelong process.”

But so much hinged on her. Could she extinguish her 20-year smoking habit? It’s a requirement for weight-loss surgery patients. Would she make better nutritional choices? Find comfort without overeating? Make exercise part of her daily life?

Determined to change, Carolyn drew strength from her past successes, including 14 years’ recovery from alcohol and drug addictions. Step-by-step she forged ahead. “I even stopped smoking,” she says.

Preparation takes time

Carolyn attended Sanford’s free weight-loss surgery informational seminar. She learned about the team approach, the national designation as a Bariatric Surgery Center of Excellence, the outstanding results and the complete program.

he gained another perspective by attending Sanford’s support-group meetings. “Such a conglomeration of people -- some had surgery months ago, others years,” says Carolyn. “I learned from all of them. I wanted to know exactly what I was getting myself into.”

Education sessions with Sanford nutritionists introduced her to healthy eating habits. “I used to shovel food in but wow, what a difference when you eat mindfully and activate all five senses. I had the most meaningful experience with a raisin,” she says, laughing.

Carolyn proceeded through the psychological evaluation and finally received approval from her insurance company. On Jan. 15, 2009, she underwent gastric bypass surgery with Dr. Luis Garcia, one of three board-certified weight loss surgeons at Sanford in Fargo. “He and his team were there for me all the way,” she says.

Gaining life

By April 2009, Carolyn had the energy and drive to walk five miles a day. Three months later she met her goal weight. Today, at a healthy 150, she no longer needs medication for high blood pressure and high cholesterol and doesn’t have sleep apnea.

And that spirit that got her this far? It soars. “I fought hard to get this surgery and I’ll fight hard to maintain my weight loss,” she says. “No regrets here.”

Carolyn’s 100-pound weight loss put her on a new path -- literally. For the past two summers she and friends have motorcycled through the western states, camping along the way. Carolyn snapped more than 1,000 pictures, but her favorite one resides in her mind. She’s resting against a cycle, taking in the majesty of the Rocky Mountains.

“There I am, just one little being in this vast world of beauty and openness,” she says, a catch in her voice. “And I have my life back.”

Posted Date: January 2011