Cathleen Conley - Hemlock, MI
"I took charge and I'm never going back."
Breaking the Cycle with Bariatric Surgery
Cathleen Conley of Hemlock once weighed more than 300 pounds. "I come from a family of larger people," she said. "My mom was more than 600 pounds and my grandpa was the same way."
For years, she enjoyed good health despite carrying extra weight on her tall frame. Then things began to change. "In fact, it seemed like everything was changing," Conley said. "I developed fluid buildup in my legs and my EKG showed potential heart issues."
Undaunted, she tried to maintain her health. She continued to work out until the fluid buildup in her lungs, which also caused a persistent cough and hoarse voice, made it impossible.
"The same thing had happened to my mother," she said. "I saw what my mom went through before she passed away."
In addition to the pain of the peripheral edema – fluid accumulating in her legs – Conley had to deal with fibromyalgia, Sjogrens syndrome, GERD and a hiatal hernia as well as an artificial knee.
The now 50-year-old had worked in the medical field since 1988; she knew that eliminating extra weight would make the other conditions easier to manage.
Trying to lose weight was not new to Conley. "Over the years, I tried them all," she said. "LA Weight Loss, Medical Weight Loss, Weight Watchers. Nothing stuck."
"I had been thinking about bariatric surgery for a few years," she said. "I had enough problems and a history of family obesity and health issues."
The turning point occurred at a birthday dinner. "In March of 2015, as my twin sister and I celebrated our birthday, we had our photo taken," Conley said. "I was 310 pounds at the time."
She said looking at that photo was the wake-up call she needed. "I started losing weight on my own, and got down to 275, but I plateaued there. By August my weight was on the way up again."
Conley, a clinical assistant at MidMichigan Health, said a chance meeting with a patient helped her decide to take action. "He had undergone bariatric surgery and one day he just said to me, 'What are you waiting for?' Less than two months later, I was approved and ready for surgery."
While most bariatric patients undergo a sleeve gastrectomy, Conley chose to have Roux-en-Y gastric bypass. "I had observed people who had undergone both procedures," she said. "I was looking at it from an outside perspective – what they could eat and how much they lost. Roux-en-Y was a better choice for me."
General and Bariatric Surgeon Ernest Cudjoe, M.D., performed Conley's procedure at MidMichigan Medical Center - Gratiot. While recovery was not pain-free, it was certainly tolerable. "I was up and walking as soon as possible and had to drink lots of water," she said. "It was very uncomfortable but I'd do it again in a heartbeat."
Just as Conley had expected, her weight loss was dramatic. "Six weeks after surgery they were amazed at how much I had lost," she said. "All the weight was gone within the first year. Now I'm a healthy 175 pounds."
Conley said she looks at food differently since her surgery. Food is fuel and she picks only high-quality fuel. "If it comes in a can or a box, I usually don't eat it," she said. She does admit to the occasional indulgence, however.
A typical lunch is now sliced cucumbers and bell peppers, a hard-boiled egg and a small orange. "The first rule is to always get enough protein," Conley said, adding that she requires 100 grams each day. Protein packed shakes help meet her goals. "I seek out protein and I eliminated sugar."
She works out daily at local facilities. Also, she walks, and in the winter, takes fitness classes. Zumba is a particular favorite.
"It is truly a lifestyle," Conley said. "I tell people they really have to want it and have to change their mindset and their lifestyle. But if they're ready, I encourage them to go for it! What do they have to lose?"
Conley dropped from a size 24 to a size 12. "I love it when my kids tell me to get out of their closet," she laughed. "I love that now when they hug me, they can get their arms all the way around me."
She keeps the photo that changed her life on her phone. "I look at the picture and I can't imagine being that way ever again," she said. "I took charge and I'm never going back."
MidMichigan 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.midmichigan.org/bariatricseminars or watch MidMichigan's online seminar video series at www.midmichigan.org/bariatriconlineseminar.