Obesity has been a problem for me most of my life. Growing up I shopped in the husky section. When I was 13 in 7th grade, I weighed 225 pounds. My football coaches loved it, but it was not easy being the brownest and roundest kid in school. I was an athlete all through high school playing baseball and kept busy, so my weight didn't change all that much, but I did slowly get bigger. During my college years I stopped playing sports and doing much exercise at all and joined a co-ed fraternity that had open beer taps, not a good idea for losing weight.
Over the next 20 years or so my girth grew, and I entered my 40s at nearly 380 lbs. I had a variety of health related issues due to my super morbid obesity. I was suffering from high cholesterol (269), high blood pressure, and sleep apnea. I had to use a machine at night to keep breathing. I had asthma, bad joints and back pain. I couldn't keep up with my six-year-old son, and I was facing early death from a heart attack, stroke, possible diabetes and weight-related cancers.
?Something dramatic had to happen, and after much thought and deliberation I made the decision that I was not going to live and die this way. At my lowest I lost 180 pounds, which resolved my health issues. How did I do it? It wasn’t an Old Indian Trick.
I actually decided to have a gastric bypass surgery called a "duodenal switch." It is now the 11th anniversary of my gastric bypass surgery. The procedure was done laparoscopically, but I developed an intestinal leak five days after surgery and had to be rushed back to the emergency room for an operation. For my surgeons to repair the problem, they had to cut my belly from my navel to my sternum. I was in the hospital for the next 10 weeks unable to eat or drink anything. All I could do was chew ice and spit it out. I got all my liquids and nutrition from a food tube directly into my intestines.
All in all, I was off work for nearly six months. I had an open wound and hospital bills in excess of $1 million, but thanks to my insurance, my co-pay was only $1. I was in a hospital bed tied to machines for four months and I was facing hernia surgery (to repair that huge incision on my belly) before the year was out. It was not pleasant and even though I was at home and had my family there, I was not a happy camper. But I slowly got better.
A year after the surgery I ate miniscule portions of food. Today I eat regular portions but can skip meals and fast for ten days, for ceremonial reasons, without a problem. I have had more than three-quarters of my stomached removed, and over a meter of intestines bypassed. I do not even absorb all that I eat. I have to remain on a strict regimen of vitamins and supplements for the rest of my life, and make regular visits to my specialists.
But I am also able to play games with my son, enjoy life more, fit in airline seats, and wear normal clothes. My cholesterol is 123, my blood pressure is on the low end of normal, and I no longer need asthma meds or the breathing machine. I weigh less than I did in 7th grade. This is what I did it for.
People always ask me, "Was it worth all the suffering and misery you went through?" It took me more than a year to say that I would do it again. I would never tell anyone else to get the surgery, but if they have serious health issues, I say it is something they should investigate. It is not something to be undertaken lightly. I have known two Native people who died from the complications that are part of this surgery. I tell people to know the risks and find a good surgeon who has done at least several hundred successful operations. ??
There are three major types of the operation: the Lap Band, the Rouen Y, and the Duodenal Switch that I had, the most extreme. I have included information below for more research. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I must thank all my family, friends and co-workers for the prayers and thoughts that helped me emerge from this a stronger, healthier person. I also owe the Northern California Indian Development Council a big thanks for keeping my job on hold for me during the recovery process and paying those insurance premiums.?
Andre Cramblit is a Karuk Tribal Member from the Klamath and Salmon rivers in northwest California and the Operations Director of the Northern California Indian Development Council. He lives with his wife Wendy and son Kyle in Arcata, California.