Chris and Carolen Perez - Beaverton, MI
"We've been given an amazing second chance at life."
Bariatric Surgery Helps Entire Family Gain a Happier, Healthier, More Active Life
Carolen Perez said she has always carried more weight than most people. "I also spent too much time yo-yo dieting," she said. "I'd lose weight but gain back even more. Back-to-back pregnancies didn’t help."
She had casually explored bariatric surgery, but her fifth pregnancy eliminated the possibility. However, by her sixth pregnancy, the now 30-year-old weighed more than 300 pounds. "At that weight, I was having trouble breathing and had severe back pain. I knew I had to do something," she said.
One day, she finally decided enough was enough and she began seriously researching weight loss surgery. "I couldn’t handle it anymore," Carolen said. "I knew there were risks with surgery but there were also risks with the path I was on."
Her husband, Chris, also 30, was not in favor of Carolen's choice to have bariatric surgery. "We had a rough time in the beginning," she said. "I finally told him, 'I love you, but I'm doing this for myself.'"
She set up an initial consultation with General and Bariatric Surgeon Ernest Cudjoe, M.D. "I loved him immediately," she said. "He did my surgery on August 11, 2015, at MyMichigan Medical Center Alma."
Carolen said her first year was challenging. "I was still nursing my youngest and my body was not letting go of the weight," she said. "After I stopped, the weight came off more easily."
She was also diagnosed with cancer during that first year and had to undergo surgery to remove it.
She feels her long-term success was assured by a change in attitude. "I changed my mindset," Carolen said. "I changed how I view the food I put in my body. After that first year, I closely followed the rules. I focused on what I was supposed to do and the weight just dropped off."
At her one year anniversary, Carolen weighed 229 pounds, down from 307. While her weight loss was less than she expected, her husband thought differently. "Chris was inspired," she said. "He was 325 pounds at the time and pre-diabetic. When he started looking into bariatric surgery, it became a team effort. I could help him through his journey."
Chris is not proud of his initial less-than-encouraging attitude. "I was totally against her surgery," he said. "I was worried that something would go wrong. We had kids to think about. I wasn't supportive of her even after surgery. I reminded her that it was her choice."
His opinion began to change as he watched his wife regain her health and energy. "I saw the progress she was making even if she didn’t," Chris said.
Chris made the decision to undergo bariatric surgery in June 2016. "We were at the zoo with our kids, being pulled in every direction, and I was struggling to keep up with them," he said. "Then I saw my wife running here and there with them, laughing and full of life. Something clicked."
He had his first appointment with Dr. Cudjoe less than two weeks later.
"Carolen was so happy to learn that I was going to follow her example," Chris said. "She was totally on board."
Chris said the pre-work was the hardest thing he ever had to do. "I used to eat to relieve stress," he said. "Food made me feel better and I struggled to lose that pre-surgery weight."
He admits he was hard to live with until he learned to focus on work instead of eating and put his energy into building his business. "I went from 325 pounds to 292 before surgery," he said. "Even with just that amount of weight loss, I felt better and could see a difference."
In the days leading up to his surgery in November 2016, Chris felt his anxiety level skyrocket. "I'd had weeks to think about it and it was the scariest day of my life," he said.
However, his resolve did not waver. "I had chosen Dr. Cudjoe because of the wonderful way he had treated my wife before and after surgery and he was just as good to me," Chris said.
Both Carolen and Chris chose to undergo sleeve gastrectomy. A sleeve gastrectomy maintains the basic function of the stomach; however, the volume the stomach can handle is significantly less. Patients who undergo sleeve gastrectomy feel full quickly and consume less food at each meal. On average, patients lose about half of their excess body weight in 12 months.
Like Carolen, Chris was impatient for the weight loss to start. "She reminded me that I didn't gain it all overnight and wouldn't lose it overnight," he said. "Then I started to notice small things, like I could walk up the stairs without struggling to breathe, and my clothes were getting too big. At the six month mark, I was down to 240 pounds." His high blood pressure, diabetes and sleep apnea soon vanished.
Carolen now weighs 133 pounds, and her personal goal is 127. Chris's goal was 205 pounds and he now weighs 194.
They both say the process was life changing for their entire family. "It opened our eyes and changed how we feed our children," Carolen said. "Now we work to instill healthy eating and activity habits. We limit TV and video time and are deliberate about activity."
"We eat very well, but we eat at home," Chris said. "We want to be good examples for them and let them see that they can have a good, fulfilling life without using food as a crutch."
"We want our kids' lives to be filled with adventures and experiences," Carolen said. "Now we can make memories with them that last a lifetime."
"Last summer, we took a four-and-a-half mile hike to the lighthouse at Ludington State Park," Chris said. "Before we would have dreaded that hike; now, we look forward to it. We're swimming and kayaking and doing things we never could have done before."
Chris said their marriage has gotten stronger, too. "I feel like we're dating again. We've been given an amazing second chance at life."
Chris and Carolen both know that bariatric surgery is a helpful tool, but success requires a commitment. "Your mindset has to change," she said. "Every day, we make choices and follow the rules. They gave us all the tools we need, but it is our choice to use the tools."
MyMichigan Health offers bariatric surgery in both Alma and Midland. Those who would like more information about surgical weight management may register for a free in-person information seminar at www.mymichigan.org/bariatricseminars or watch MyMichigan's online seminar video series at www.mymichigan.org/bariatriconlineseminar.