Mags, Lancashire *
These days I’m grateful just to be alive and living a life that I didn’t have before. If I hadn’t had the surgery, I don’t think I would be here.
“Have you ever seen a ‘mother of the bride’ who could use her dress as the marquee?” asks Mags Potter, a 49 year old NHS employee from Lancashire who used to weigh 30 stone.
“When my daughter got married, I was a dress size 34+ and had to have a dress made especially for me. Not because I thought it would be a special thing to do, but because they just didn’t do dresses big enough.”
Now a grandmother to four gorgeous grandchildren, Mags says she has definitely knocked on heaven’s door a few times over the years because of her weight.
“There was an awful lot wrong with me, mostly weight related,” she says. “I felt as though I was dying. I ended up having to take eight years off work, I was so ill.”
“I had acute osteoarthritis in both my knees, my hips had gone. I was really asthmatic. When I moved I sounded like Darth Vader with a cold!”
Mags also had Stein Leventhal syndrome, known too as polycystic ovary disease. “I’d had operations on my ovaries which led to infections that had to be drained. I had deep vein thrombosis, a pulmonary embolism and lymphedema,” she says.
“I’d had so many problems I was getting a bit blasé. I felt as though I was working my way through the alphabet.”
Increasingly depressed, Mags became unable to leave the house. “I just didn’t want to get up. I didn’t have a life. I told my doctor I just wanted the light to go out. My family were worried sick.”
Although Mags had seen various GPs about her obesity, not all were sympathetic. “My weight problems began when I reached puberty,” she says. “Over the years I’d tried every diet in the world but without any long term success.”
“I’d even thought about having my teeth wired together,” she says. “I was trapped in a vicious circle – the bigger I got, the less I could do. I desperately wanted weight loss surgery but it wasn’t available where I lived.”
No longer able to climb the stairs in their two storey home, Mags decided – with her husband – to move to a bungalow four miles away in Leyland, Lancashire, where it transpired weight loss surgery was available on the NHS.
“When we moved, I changed GPs,” she says. “I asked my new doctor if she knew where I could have weight loss surgery. Although we’d only moved a few miles down the road, it turned out we’d moved into an area where the NHS did fund it.”
Mag’s doctor recommended specialist weight loss surgeon Professor David Kerrigan, a pioneer of laparoscopic bariatric surgery in the UK and now CEO of Phoenix Health.
Mags and her husband – who she describes as ‘an absolute rock’ – went to a talk given by Professor Kerrigan about the different types of weight loss surgery procedures available, including the duodenal switch.
“My husband and I were both sitting listening, holding hands,” she says. “When we heard about the duodenal switch, my husband turned to me and said – that’s the one for you. It’s a biggie. It will rule our lives, but it will be worth it.”
Mags fought to get funding on the NHS. “I was like a dog with a bone,” she says. “I kept chasing. In the end they said yes.”
Mags had her duodenal switch in October 2005.
“That day changed my life forever,” she says. “The hospital porters couldn’t believe I had such a positive attitude.
“They said – we’ve never seen anyone going in for an op with such a positive attitude! But I knew I’d die if I didn’t have it. It never entered my head that it wouldn’t work. As I woke up from the op I thought – yes, this is me.”
Over the next 14 months, Mags lost 16st. “These days I weigh 14-15st,” she says. “I’m 5’ 11” and a healthy size 14-16. My weight fluctuates a bit – sometimes I gain, sometimes I lose.”
Because of her polycystic ovary condition, it had been difficult for Mags to conceive. “But I was lucky enough to have a daughter, Sarah, who’s 26 and has four gorgeous children,” she says.
“In fact, Sarah’s second child was born days after I had surgery. As my granddaughter got bigger, I got smaller.”
Although Mags is still disabled, she says she is – without doubt – the happiest she has ever been.
“I know I’ll always have arthritis but my attitude to life is completely different now,” she says.
“Life was so difficult before. I was so unhappy. I hated going out – I’d become a recluse. I couldn’t go on a plane – I couldn’t climb the steps to the aircraft and there’s no way I could have got into a seat. In fact, I struggled to get around at all.”
“What I love now is the simple pleasures in life – going out with my husband, walking the dog, being awake when the grandchildren visit. Just being able to go to the supermarket without people staring and children making hurtful comments is wonderful. My asthma is under control, I can breathe more easily.”
“Although I’m still disabled it doesn’t matter. Yes, my legs are gone, I need a hip replacement and I have to walk with a stick. But there are ways round that. I’ve just bought a tiny mobility scooter and it’s given me such freedom. When I was heavy I couldn’t have one – there just wasn’t one that was big enough or strong enough to carry me.”
“These days I’m grateful just to be alive and living a life that I didn’t have before. If I hadn’t had the surgery, I don’t think I would be here.”
Mags and her husband recently went to Fuerteventura where she had ‘the day from heaven’.
“We went to a zoo and I hired a mobility scooter,” she says. “I just spent the day with my husband, looking at the animals.
“It was fantastic just to blend in. No one stared, children didn’t laugh. It was wonderful.”
These days Mags says she ‘absolutely loves’ going to work. “Nothing will keep me away,” she says.
“I’m a project support manager for Discover, the NHS drug and alcohol recovery service in Lancashire. I absolutely love it. I feel the problems caused by my weight robbed me of eight years of my life. Now I refuse to be ill. When I was well enough to work again, I specifically wanted to work for the NHS because they had done so much for me. I wanted to give something back.”
“Mags is a great asset,” said Debra Bretherton of Central Drug and Alcohol Services at Greater Manchester West Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust. “It’s not just the fact she enjoys her work – she’s conscientious, tenacious and a pleasure to work with. She makes a significant contribution to the smooth running and delivery of the service.”
Like many Phoenix Health patients, Mags describes her weight loss surgery as the best thing she ever did.
“These days I am very vocal about my duodenal switch operation,” she says. “It has become part of me and part of the family and once I get going, I don’t tend to stop.”
“If I can inspire just one person to change their life the way mine has been changed, then I will feel I have helped in a tiny way to promote the excellent work Professor Kerrigan and his team at Phoenix Health do on a daily basis.”