Shawn Walsh, 40, knows the mechanics of weight loss.
Track your caloric intake. Focus on exercise. Hydrate. Repeat.
However, that formula wasn’t always easy to put into practice.
In early adulthood, while struggling to lose weight on his own, he explored weight-loss surgery as a tool to help him reclaim his health. At that time, though, he decided it wasn’t right for him.
“At 25-years-old, I wasn’t ready for that,” he said.
So he chose a different path.
“I went out, went to the gym, hired a personal trainer. In 15 months I went from 375 to 215 pounds,” he said. “It was fantastic, but it wasn’t maintainable. I just didn’t know that at the time.”
Slowly, over a period of five years, Shawn worked out less and the weight came back, plus some.
Hit with Health Problems
By the time he took his current role in the information technology department at a Philadelphia-based university, he was heavier than when he originally began his weight-loss journey – more than 400 pounds.
“I initially lost some weight by moving around campus,” he said. “But I started having health problems … It was the onset of problems I see in my family.”
Shawn had prehypertension and said he reluctantly agreed to begin taking blood-pressure medication. He also was diagnosed with sleep apnea and would tire easily early in the workday.
“It was the start of health problems that I knew were going to plague me for the rest of my life if I didn’t do something,” he said.
Not Sold at First
Armed with the determination to set himself on a long-term path to wellness, but not entirely sure how to do it, Shawn attended a free information session early last summer at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center.
“When I went to the info session, I was still very, very not sold,” he said. “I just went to check it out, but it was fantastic!”
While at the info session, Shawn was asked if he was interested in scheduling a new-patient visit. He was about to leave for a Las Vegas vacation and had planned a buffer day to rest before going back to work once he returned. That buffer day happened to be the same day as the available appointment – so he took it.
However, after his first visit, Shawn still wasn’t entirely sure he was ready for surgery.
“I didn’t really buy in until the second weight-loss management session,” he said. “At that point I told my sister.”
About two weeks after their conversation, Shawn’s sister gave him a call, she had something important to tell him.
“She said, ‘not only am I also getting the weight loss surgery, I’m three months ahead of you in the cycle.’”
A New Way of Life
Gary Korus, MD, FACS, performed Shawn’s laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy on Dec. 21, 2017. Almost right away, he began his new, very active way of life.
“It didn’t take long for me to feel better,” he said.
However, too much too fast led Shawn to exhaustion. At one point not far removed from surgery, Shawn called his care team with complaints about fatigue.
“I remember they sternly but fairly told me, ‘Shawn, you just had major surgery,’” he said. “My response was that I felt fine other than the fatigue, to which they repeated, ‘Shawn, you just had major surgery.’
“I was feeling so good, that I was doing more than I should have.”
The decision whether to have weight-loss surgery is deeply personal, and Shawn sees two distinct motivators.
“There are lots of reasons for having weight loss surgery and to me they fall into two camps – true-to-heart reasons, and the bonuses,” said Shawn, who is now more than seven months removed from surgery. “Both are important, but if you go to have surgery for the bonuses – for the I want to look better – then my opinion is you’re more likely going to fail.”
To Shawn, those reasons aren’t sustainable, just like his old weight loss.
“You can’t do it for the bonuses, you have to do it for the true-to-heart reasons – I want to get off these medicines, I want to be around for my grandkids, I want to be healthier,” he said. “When you do it for those reasons you set yourself up to succeed long term.
“Celebrate the bonuses when they happen, but don’t hold your entire weight-loss world to those standards.”