Richard LaFontaine - Midland, MI
"I'm much more active now. In fact, I have so much energy it's hard for me to sit still."
Looking and Feeling Years Younger, Thanks to Bariatric Surgery
"I've been overweight all my life to varying degrees," said 68-year-old Richard LaFontaine of Midland. "Years ago, when I was in my early 30s, I worked with a professional at the Midland Community Center and dropped down to 187 pounds." Unfortunately, his success at achieving a healthy weight was short-lived.
"I was never able to get the weight off again and I tried everything I could – diets, exercise, weightlifting, gyms – nothing worked," he said. "In the last five to 10 years, I kept gaining until I hit 368 pounds."
Richard is a master electrician and small business owner. He said his weight made working more difficult. "It was hard getting up and down on a ladder and crawling around," he said. "I couldn't climb around like I used to."
His son, who also struggled with excess weight, decided to have bariatric surgery. After talking about the procedure with him, Richard began thinking about the procedure himself and discovered he had the full support of his primary care physician. "I remember telling her, 'I can't live like this anymore,' and she said to me, 'Have you considered bariatric surgery, because I can set it up,'" he said.
After that conversation, things moved smoothly and quickly. "I did all the pre-work and passed everything with flying colors," Richard said. "All I had to do was lose 25 pounds before the surgery; it all went according to plan."
Richard underwent a sleeve gastrectomy at MyMichigan Medical Center Midland in May 2016. General and Bariatric Surgeon Ernest Cudjoe, M.D., performed the procedure. A sleeve gastrectomy maintains the basic function of the stomach while the volume the stomach can handle is significantly reduced. 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.
"My procedure went fine," he said. "After surgery, I had no pain, no nausea, nothing. Within an hour after surgery I was up and walking. They finally had to tell me to slow down or at least stay on my own floor! I had no post-op problems at all. When Dr. Cudjoe came to see me, I asked him, 'Are you sure you took something out?'"
A year after surgery, Richard was down 155 pounds. "That's the equivalent of three sacks of grain," he said. "Now I wonder how I ever carried around all that extra weight."
One thing he knows for sure is that life is better without the excess weight. "I'm much more active now. In fact, I have so much energy it's hard for me to sit still," Richard said. Losing weight definitely had a positive impact on his work life. "It made things a lot easier. It's like I'm a kid again and I can do what I used to do. I don't mind climbing ladders or walking long distances anymore. Things are so much easier."
Richard said Dr. Cudjoe and his staff made the process easy. Before, during and after surgery, the group freely offered their skills and support. "They are wonderful," he said. "Dr. Cudjoe is very conscientious and they are always willing to help and answer questions. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people."
He still enjoys contact with the group via twice-monthly support group meetings. "I share my story with new people who are planning to have surgery," Richard said. "I'm happy to act as a spokesperson. If it helps someone else, that's fantastic."
Richard stressed that bariatric surgery is just part of a lifelong commitment to a healthy lifestyle. "Discipline makes the difference," he said. "For instance, post-surgery was a little tricky for me, starting out with liquids only. I was getting impatient but I followed the rules and it worked out well."
He hasn't looked back since. "I look better and I feel better," Richard said. "I've always been thankful for my good health, but my life is so much better now. I only wish I'd done it sooner."
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.