Laina Harris' weight-loss journey sidetracked by surgery

She is still hitting the trails despite pain caused by gallstones; she will have gall bladder removed

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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The hits just keep coming. And try as she might, Laina Harris just can’t stop the blows.

After going several months without losing any weight, Harris was determined to get the scale moving again. But her body had other plans.

First, the Camas woman bought a new scale — a daily tool in her weight-loss effort. The new scale revealed the old scale had been off by 10 pounds. Instead of weighing 285 pounds, as the old scale read, Harris learned she weighed 295 pounds.

Then, crippling stomach pain brought Harris to her knees.

After one awful evening, the pain subsided. But Harris quickly realized the pain returned after eating certain foods. The foods that caused the most pain happened to be the predominant foods in her diet.

She drastically reduced her protein intake. She eliminated broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, avocados, onions and tomatoes from her diet. She replaced those foods with bread and other carbohydrates, which didn’t cause as much pain.

As a result, Harris gained 10 pounds. The weight gain coupled with the scale mishap brought her weight up to 305 pounds — a number Laina planned to never see again.

And then this month came the blow that will land Harris in a hospital operating room.

After weeks of off-and-on stomach pain, Harris saw a physician. An ultrasound of her abdomen, liver, gallbladder and pancreas revealed the 41-year-old has multiple gallstones.

The crippling pain was the result of a gallstone’s temporarily blocking the duct that releases bile — used for digestion — from the gallbladder into the intestine, Harris said.

Harris’ physician referred her for laparoscopic surgery to remove her gallbladder. The surgery could happen as soon as July and will sideline her at least a week.

“It’s scary,” Harris said. “Surgery’s scary. You don’t go into that lightly.”

But Harris is ready for the pain in her belly — which she said feels like a balloon ready to pop from pressure — to end. She’s ready to return to her new healthy, active lifestyle.

“I didn’t want another obstacle. I’m just getting stuck over and over again,” Harris said. “I try to remind myself this is a lifestyle, but the other side is, ‘Dang it, I’m overweight, and I want to be done with it.’ ”

“I want the next challenge,” she said. “I want this part of my life to be over with.”

Harris began her new lifestyle more than a year ago.

At her heaviest, Harris weighed 420 pounds. Last spring, weighing 405 pounds, Harris began her weight-loss journey in earnest — adopting an exercise regime and completely making over her diet.

Through that new lifestyle, Harris lost more than 100 pounds.

Still exercising

Despite the stomach pain, which begins in the morning and intensifies throughout the day, Harris has continued to exercise as much as she can. She’s also adjusting to the new job she started last month and learning to balance work and exercise.

Harris tries to log 10,000 steps (five miles) every day. The new desk job doesn’t do much to help her reach that goal. So after work, Harris heads out to Heritage Trail or Round Lake in Camas for evening walks.

On the weekends, she goes on hikes in the Columbia River Gorge. But Harris doesn’t choose hikes that are as adventurous as those she used to take, because she worries the abdominal pain will strike on the trail.

“I’m afraid to do what I want to do,” Harris said. “It’s less about the weight loss. I don’t like to be restricted physically. I just got this freedom. I feel like a little bit of it is being taken away.”

Harris has lost some weight in recent weeks; she’s back down to 295 real pounds. But for now, Harris’ focus isn’t on weight loss; it’s on making it through the days until her surgery.

Harris hopes to undergo surgery as soon as possible and is keeping her fingers crossed for a speedy recovery. That way, she can get back to training for her big summer hike: an 8-mile trek along the south side of Mount St. Helens.

Harris and a group of friends are scheduled to begin the hike on Aug. 30. And, body willing, Harris plans to be there.

“There’s no goal out there that doesn’t require a little bit of sacrifice and the will to keep going,” Harris said. “It’s not going to be easy, dang it, but I’ll be on the other side, and I’ll be looking for other challenges that keep me inspired every day.”


Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com.