From Tragedy and Pain to Freedom and Hope
Leslie Witherspoon of Big Rapids had always carried extra weight. He remembers weighing 200 pounds in 8th grade. “I have family members who would be considered morbidly obese,” he said. “My dad was a heavy person and I think his physical condition crushed his spirit.”
However, it wasn’t genetics but a series of personal tragedies that pushed his weight higher and higher. In less than two years, Leslie lost two of his adult children, a brother and his mother. While on the job as a police officer, he was also shot in the head and back and lost the sight in his left eye.
“At that point in my life, nothing mattered,” he said. “I neglected my mental health as well as my physical health. I turned to food and things got out of control.”
Standing 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighing 489 pounds, Leslie withdrew from life. “I was so beat down and so depressed,” he said. “I felt like I had a foot in the grave and was just waiting for the other to drop. I went from being totally confident to suicidal – I hid myself from my mother, my children and my friends.”
While he used food to help him cope with the emotional and physical pain, Leslie rarely left his home. “I couldn’t walk a flight of stairs without feeling like I was going into cardiac arrest,” he said. “I rarely went out because I knew I’d be hurt. I heard the snickering and cruel comments. Even family members tormented me at times.”
Leslie had developed diabetes and sleep apnea and was being treated by Internal Medicine Specialist Madhura Mansabdar, M.D. In her office was a poster of Bariatric Surgeons Ernest Cudjoe, M.D. and Jeffery Smith, M.D. “Whenever I looked at that poster, I always felt drawn to Dr. Cudjoe,” he said. Curious about bariatric surgery, Leslie did research at the library and on the internet. “I compared the pros and cons and the pros won. I went forward and asked Dr. Mansabdar if I would be a candidate for bariatric surgery.”
It was the start of new life for Leslie. Dr. Cudjoe performed Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery on Leslie on September 28, 2010. “I now consider that my birthday – I was reborn,” he said. “I had been slowly dying and that was the day I started getting healthy.”
Leslie knew that bariatric surgery requires a lifelong commitment. “I was prepared to change,” he said. “I knew surgery was just the beginning. Dr. Cudjoe did what he needed to do but the rest was up to me.” Adjusting to his new diet was not as difficult as he anticipated. “It was easy to give up the food that had kept me in isolation.”
As Leslie’s weight dropped, his health improved; the sleep apnea and diabetes disappeared. Best of all, Leslie’s spirit began to heal as well. “Instead of a ho-hum existence, I knew I could look forward to more. I started to hope and dream again,” he said. He bought a bike, even though he had not ridden in 30 years. He went back to college to finish a degree. He began volunteering at his church. “Now I wake up looking for good things to happen.”
Leslie said the staff at MidMichigan Medical Center–Gratiot was outstanding. “Dr. Smith always made me laugh,” he said. “Even when I had to go back to the hospital because of some unanticipated complications, I never felt like I was on an assembly line. I felt like these people cared about me. I never had even a mediocre encounter with someone there – they are always positive and uplifting.”
Leslie said he owes his surgeon a debt he can never repay. “Dr. Cudjoe was an answer to prayer,” he said. “He played a profound role in the second half of my life. I can’t thank him enough for the help he’s given me.”
Leslie said bariatric surgery was truly a life-changing event for him. “My surgery date is as significant to me as the birth of my children, my wedding day and the day I was baptized,” he said. “Bariatric surgery gave me freedom. I can now be the man God intended me to be.”
Since his surgery, Leslie has lost 258 pounds and gained a new lease on life.
MidMichigan Health offers bariatric surgery in both Midland and Alma. Those who would like more information or a list of upcoming free seminars may call MidMichigan Health Line toll-free at (800) 999-3199 or visit www.midmichigan.org/bariatrics.