Chris Powell's Story
I grew up in Texas, and have been overweight my entire life - it's a part of every memory that I have. Even when it's a small part of a bigger memory, it's still there and still brings back those feelings of embarrassment, frustration, or sadness. I remember my mom taking me shopping in the "husky" section of the clothing store, and how it was sometimes difficult to find a Cub Scout uniform in the right size. I remember what it was like to struggle through every gym class, and to be the last one that finished doing laps each morning. I remember the first time I was afraid to get on a roller coaster, because I might be too big. I remember my grandmother taking me to a hypnotist when I was a pre-teen to see if that would help, and I remember worrying that I'd mess up a friend's wedding photos by being the biggest person in them. The thing I remember most, though, was feeling helpless. Nothing I tried worked for long, and I think I tried it all...
I moved from Texas to Maryland for a new career, but then dealt with loneliness and the stresses of the move by gaining more weight. My blood pressure and cholesterol levels were both high, and I was prescribed medications to treat them. When traveling for work, my feet would hurt throughout the day and flying or taking a train were uncomfortable and embarrassing. On February 21, 2014, I turned 39 and promised myself that I was going to turn 40 a healthier, happier person. I had been reading about different approaches to weight loss, and read a lot about the GBMC COMP program. I attended an information session and met Dr. Elizabeth Dovec for the first time. Dr. Dovec is an amazing person with a unique set of gifts - she's talented in the operating room, but also has an amazing empathy for her patients that is very special. She and the team at GBMC put me immediately at ease, and never made me feel self-conscious about my weight. Instead, they helped identify what was keeping me from the successful weight loss that I wanted so badly and gave me hope that I could successfully work to take the weight off and keep it off. Dr. Dovec helped treat nutritional deficiencies and sleep apnea, and her team of nutritionists showed me changes I needed to make. They also helped me understand that I had issues that willpower alone wouldn’t solve, and showed that they could give me some of the tools that I needed to succeed.
For six months, I attended nutrition classes and participated in a private Facebook-based support group hosted by Dr. Dovec. I met other people who had gone through the same struggles, learned many of the same lessons, and were on the journey alongside me. I asked questions and got answers from Dr. Dovec in the middle of the night, when I know she’d been in surgery or with patients throughout the day. I started to see some results from the better food choices I was making, which were reinforced in my monthly visits to the office. The psychologist that I met with and my conversations with Dr. Dovec and the nutritionists helped me identify that portion control was by biggest issue, and I chose to have a Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy at GBMC. This surgery would give me a real tool in my fight for a healthier life, and I had never felt so certain about anything. I had been given reams of information and support at the GBMC COMP office, had seen other specialists and my primary care doctor to get their feedback, and was SO ready!
I received a surgery date of October 28, 2014, and was so excited when my insurance company approved the paperwork. I was the first surgery of the day, so my mom flew in from Texas and stayed with me for the two days of liquid diet and then a night in a hotel near the GBMC campus. We went to the hospital at 5AM, and flew through the registration process. After some comedic shenanigans involving earrings that I couldn’t get out, it was my turn. The anesthesiologist and nurses got me situated, and Dr. Dovec came in for one last pep talk. My mom had obviously been worrying, but was immediately calmed after meeting with her. I was wheeled into surgery, and was asleep before I even knew it. I woke up in recovery, with my mom and Dr. Dovec by my side. Everything that had been explained to me so many times before surgery had gone off without a hitch, and I now had a stomach the size of a banana. I was whisked up to my room within an hour, and was up and walking the floor an hour after that. Like the GBMC COMP team, the nurses and staff on the surgical floor were amazing. I was kept completely comfortable and had an immense amount of support. I slept like a baby that night, had some tests the next morning, and was then released to go home by the afternoon. When leaving the hospital, I was given a ton of detailed information about what to expect for the next few days, my prescriptions were filled, and I was headed home!
The COMP team and Dr. Dovec checked on me over the next couple of days, and I had regular visits to the office to make sure my four tiny incisions were healing properly and that I was comfortable. Fortunately, I didn’t even need pain medicine after the first night, and was able to return to work about a week after surgery thanks to a job that allowed me to take it easy for another week after my return. My follow-up visits went fine, and the results of the surgery were almost immediate. My appetite is greatly decreased, and the new portions I eat meet my needs but my smaller stomach doesn’t allow me to overeat. After the first week, I started to lose weight while still having energy to go about my daily routine. After the first month, I was already noticing a difference, and by the second month other people were noticing and commenting on the weight loss. On July 28, 2015, I get to go to the COMP office for my 9-month follow-up appointment. For the first time in my life, I look forward to visiting my primary care doctor for a checkup or COMP for follow-ups. Each visit, the news gets better and better, and I no longer take ANY prescription medications. My blood pressure and other measures of health like my cholesterol levels are normal, and my doctors are all thrilled.
At my heaviest, I weighed 463 pounds. I am 160 pounds lighter now, but still have a ways to go. Dr. Dovec and the team at COMP have been right beside me for this entire journey, as have the many patients who share their successes and struggles. I have dropped six pants sizes, three shirt sizes, and have never felt better. I'm able to travel much more comfortably, have spent entire days at theme parks without pain or being overly tired, and I am able to attend conventions and stand on my feet for eight to ten hours a day without needing to sit down or worry that my feet will be killing me in the morning. I went on a cruise and spent entire days poolside feeling good and having fun, then ventured out to the beach for the first time in 20 years.
I'm more comfortable doing presentations in front of large groups, which is a big part of my job, and I feel more sure of myself and love it when people tell me how happy and healthy I look. I actually ENJOY shopping for clothes, something I didn't think I'd ever say. I think I've taken more pictures (even a bunch of silly "selfies") in the last year than in the ten years before that, and then I don't mind showing them to other people!
One of the best gifts, though, has been the opportunity to encourage other people who thought they would spend the rest of their lives overweight. Whether it's friends or coworkers who I take to an information session or someone on Facebook who just feels like they don't have any options, I love being able to tell them about the great experience that I've had and the hope I now have for my future. I'll forever be grateful to GBMC and everyone that makes it such a special place. I've been given the chance to live a longer, fuller life, and you can't put a price on that.