Real Life

Real life: The unknown side effects of gastric bypass surgery

I thought that going under the knife would change my life forever.

By Laura Masia

Libby Oakes-Ash, 57, from Kingston ACT shares her true life story:

I leaned against the kitchen counter and closed my eyes in exhaustion. After a day of babysitting my grandson, Aaron, three, I was worn out.
He was always so full of energy but at 135kg, I just couldn't keep up with him.
Suddenly, I heard my phone buzzing from across the room.
I raced to answer it, but in my haste I fell to the ground with a thud.
I hadn't noticed Aaron by my feet and had tripped over him.
Please don't tell me I'd hurt him!
"Are you okay?" I asked.
But unscathed, he wandered off to find his toys.
Then I pushed against the floor to get up, but I couldn't lift my body.
I was just too heavy.
For 10 minutes, I heaved and groaned before I climbed onto my knees.
Placing my hand on the bench, I hoisted myself up.
"Ugh," I groaned, feeling my joints taking the weight.
Although my body wasn't hurt, my ego was badly bruised.
How did I let myself get this big?
For years, I'd been thin and active. I loved working up a sweat so much, I even became a personal trainer.
But after I got married in my 20s everything changed.
Me at 135kg before the surgery.
Our relationship soon became rocky and I often relied on food to comfort me.
Sometimes it felt like downing a chocolate bar or fizzy drink were the only things that could get me through the days.
My hubby and I split, but my unhealthy food habits continued.
Each day I'd start off with a healthy green smoothie for breakfast, keen to make a fresh start, but then by mid-morning I'd have a muffin with my coffee.
Lunch was a salad sandwich, but in the afternoon the cravings would hit and I'd have a chocolate.
Too exhausted to cook by dinnertime, I'd turn to a foot-long Subway sandwich or a large Maccas meal.
Food became an uncontrollable addiction and over the next 20 years I piled on 50kg.
During that time I lost the weight twice through sheer determination, but it always crept back on.
The fall that day with Aaron was the wake-up call.
Now i'm just trying to be as healthy as I can.
The next day, I contacted a counsellor and started researching gastric sleeve surgery online.
I learned that 85 per cent of my stomach would be removed to stop the hunger hormone, ghrelin, from being produced.
Afterwards, patients are on a liquid diet for three months.
It was a serious op, but I was astounded by the number of people who claimed the weight started falling off instantly.
Sick of feeling at the mercy of food, I knew this was my only hope.
I figured that if I wasn't hungry anymore, I wouldn't eat.
I booked in to see the surgeon.
He warned me not everyone loses all of their extra weight afterwards.
"Most lose 75 per cent," he said, "but only one person has lost all of it and kept it off."
"Well, count me as number two!" I said, determined.
I was confident that with my healthy background, if anyone had a chance, it would be me.
After the surgery I recovered quickly and made my own custard, jellies and shakes to avoid the added sugars.
Once I started eating solids again, I was shocked at how little I could stomach.
After the operation the weight dropped off fast.
For a whole year, all I could manage was half a sandwich for lunch.
Sometimes, I wasn't hungry at all.
I went on daily walks and worked out three times a week.
I was always fatigued from the lack of nutrients, but I was determined.
It was working, too.
The weight was falling off at an incredible rate.
I was down to 70kg.
But as time went on, half a sandwich turned into a whole one, and two and a half years later, that alone didn't cut it.
At lunch I'd pinch a chip or two from my friend's plate, until eventually I could consume the entire lot.
Before I knew it, my stomach had stretched and the ghrelin was surging through me again.
I'd been convinced that my hunger wouldn't come back. Now I didn't know what to do.
Terrified I'd put on weight, I mustered the courage to step on the scales.
My heart dropped.
I'd put on eight kilograms in just three months.
I loved being active with my dog Charlie.
That wasn't even the half of my troubles.
I was still plagued by the side effects of the procedure.
The rapid weight loss had made my once taut skin sag off my body.
My hair was falling out from the lack of nutrients in the small portions I'd been eating, and the cost of the vitamins I needed every day was over $150 a month.
Still, I didn't regret having the surgery.
I knew it'd been the only thing that could save me at the time.
Today I'm still working on my mental health, staying active and eating well.
I'm just glad that I can help others by sharing my story.
I believe that there is a place for gastric band surgery, but I wish I knew a few years ago that it's not the quick fix that many people think it is.
If you are considering this surgery, make sure you've done your research.
The operation isn't enough to change unhealthy habits.
Many people put the weight back on and I was one of them.

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