Trading Can’t For Can
For most of her life, Angela never imagined she’d run one mile without stopping, let alone ten.
“I hated the mile run at school. I remember other kids lapping me.”
Now 29, Angela not only has a medal to prove her newfound endurance, she has a whole collection of “bucket list” items she’s tackled, from skydiving and Segway® tours to flying without a seat belt extension.
It’s an exhilarating change for the woman who once avoided roller coasters because she might be too big to ride.
Loss, Gain, and Frustration
“Growing up, I was always the heavy girl,” Angela remembers. She’d watched her parents suffer from weight-related health issues including kidney failure and diabetes.
In 2013, Angela decided to do something about it. A social worker in a group home, she started hitting the gym twice daily and cooking healthy meals. She lost 70 pounds.
But no sooner had her extra weight disappeared that her spare time did, too, when Angela took a field role as a child welfare case manager.
“I was working long, unpredictable days and eating on the go. I gained 100 pounds. I remember getting dressed in the morning for work and sweating just from putting on my shoes.”
She knew she had to do something.
Angela, her husband, and her aunt – “Who is like Google; she already knows the answers but also knows the right questions to ask!” – attended a bariatric surgery information session at Penn Medicine Cherry Hill.
“I left thinking, “This is something I know I’m able to do.’”
The Penn Medicine Process
Angela called Penn and scheduled a consultation. She met with doctors and began the battery of tests to determine whether she qualified for surgery. Her preexisting condition added more tests into the mix.
“Because I have asthma, I had to undergo a sleep study and three months of monthly weight management appointments.”
Soon after, Angela attended a Penn bariatric surgery support group – another surgery prerequisite.
“What I got from the support group was validation. Bariatric surgery isn’t a cure. You have to put forth a lot of work after surgery. I think that’s one of the biggest misconceptions – that by undergoing surgery, you’re taking the easy way out.”
A team of specialists customized a weight management plan that included diet and activity goals designed to help Angela lose some weight and gain control before surgery.
Angela gained twenty pounds.
“I was working full-time, in school for my master’s degree, trying to be a good wife and daughter. Life was throwing a lot at me, but I was using those things as excuses. My doctor, Dr. Gary Korus, said, ‘If you don’t lose fifteen pounds, I’m not doing your surgery.’”
Something changed inside of her.
“I was like, ‘I really want this.’”
Following every guideline to the letter, Angela lost 17 pounds in a month. Her surgery would take place on Dec. 23 as planned.
Getting Back On Her Feet
Angela came home from the hospital on Christmas Day and stayed home from work for two months, as recommended. She spent that time healing, browsing the Internet for healthy recipes, and easing into post-surgery life mentally, physically and spiritually.
After two weeks, she began taking short walks in her cul-de-sac. Six weeks out from surgery, she was cleared to do cardio. At that point, she was losing up to three pounds a day – but also facing her new reality.
“My husband and I used to eat out a lot, and now we were sitting at home, missing that.” She solved the problem by bringing protein drinks to restaurants, helping her curb her impulse to order. The couple began going to the gym as a way to spend time together without eating.
Time with friends and extended family changed, too.
“The part that helped me most was being upfront with them. I said, ‘Don’t push me to clear my plate. I can’t go out to eat when I’m already full.’ Now we do more activities – things like bowling and bubble ball soccer – instead of just happy hour.”
More Post-Surgery Strides
Today, physical activity isn’t just at the forefront of Angela’s time with people she loves – it’s at the forefront of her spare time and her career. She ran Philadelphia’s Broad Street Run – a ten-miler – in 2017 and recently began working for Back on My Feet, a Philadelphia nonprofit that restores confidence via running to adults facing homelessness. As member service manager, Angela participates in company-wide 5:30 am runs as often as she can.
Now 167 pounds lighter than her heaviest weight, Angela loves sharing her journey with others – and seeing continued results.
“The process is different for everyone, but for me, bariatric surgery was one of if not the best decision I’ve ever made.”
If you'd like to learn more about the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery program at Penn Medicine, sign up for a free information session.