John, 57, Liverpool *
After shedding a really amazing 34 stone, John feels he has been given back his life.
For John, weight gain was gradual. A retired dock worker in Liverpool, he’d started out as a fit, active man who didn’t just love the great outdoors but for over three decades even ran a football team for local children.
At over six feet tall he weighed a moderate 12½ stone in his early twenties. Thirty years later, at 57, his weigh had climbed to just under 50 stone.
Talking about how it happened, John puts the blame, fair and square, on his love of fast food. He loved fish, chips and peas – and beer.
As he gained weight, the drawbacks came thick and fast. Growing exhaustion and reduced mobility – he had arthritis – meant that by the time he had become a grandfather, he could hardly walk. ‘I could only manage a few feet, then I’d have to stop as I was so out of breath,’ he says.
It was the small things that really hurt: finding it hard to sit down, people staring and pointing, as well as the virtual impossibility of buying clothes that fitted, and the cost on the rare occasions that he did. ‘My clothes were 9XL and my waist size was 84 inches.’
And though his size meant he had to have a big car, he has unhappy memories of trying – and failing – to do up the seat belt.
Despite trying numerous diets and every weight-loss pill going, nothing worked. One day, depressed by his lack of success and craving change, John went to see his GP.
His body was clearly suffering. ‘I already had screws in my ankles because of my arthritis,’ he says. In addition to his joint problems, he also needed an operation on his spine – something that doctors wouldn’t carry out because of his weight.’
Because John’s blood pressure and blood sugar levels were both normal and he didn’t have diabetes, a common problem with weight gain, he assumed everything was fine.
So it was a terrible shock to hear his doctor tell him bluntly that, at 57, he wouldn’t live to see his 60th birthday. ‘He basically said that my weight would kill me. I was terrified.’
It was at that moment that a weight-loss operation became a possibility. John, supported whole-hearted by his family, was desperate.
He was eventually referred to specialist weight loss surgeon Professor David Kerrigan, now CEO of Phoenix Health. The call from Professor Kerrigan’s PA to say that his local primary care trust was prepared to pay for the operation was one of the most exciting moments of his life. ‘I literally screamed with joy,’ he says.
Professor Kerrigan’s advice was that he should have duodenal switch and gastric sleeve procedures. These were carried out a year apart because of his weight, the sleeve, a five to six hour operation, in August 2005; the duodenal procedure the following year.
His rate of recovery amazed everyone. After the first operation, he was out of bed the following morning. ‘I felt terrific,’ he says. ‘Even the registrar couldn’t believe it when he came in to ask when my operation and I told him I’d already had it.’
John lost 12 ½ stone after the first operation and 19 ½ stone after the duodenal switch and today weighs 15 stone 2 pounds. He is eating normally and is not able to put on weight.
Motivation wasn’t a problem. ‘I wanted to make sure I was alive to see my grandchildren growing up,’ he says. It meant he followed the hospital’s dietary advice to the letter for two years.
Since the original procedures were carried out, John has also had two additional operations to remove the extra flaps of skin from his stomach.
His life, he says, is unimaginably different from the way it used to be. From playing with his grandchildren to buying off the peg clothes – most recently a brand new suit – he relishes the ordinary day to day activities that were once out of reach.
‘When I heard I could have the operation, I was so excited that my family thought we’d scooped the lottery,’ he says. ‘My life has changed so much that in a way, that’s just how it feels.’