Charlane Cardwell never considered weight-loss surgery, even though she had always been “fluffy,” as she called it.
As a young girl struggling with weight in a family of thin people, Charlane was regularly criticized for the number on the scale and the food she put in her mouth.
And no matter what she did to try and lose the weight, the scale wouldn’t budge.
“I’ve tried every diet in the world,” she said. “I’ve always been fluffy.”
But then she ran into an old friend she hadn’t seen in a few years. Charlane asked about the woman’s dramatic weight loss and learned she had undergone gastric bypass surgery.
Charlane researched the procedure and, with the support of her husband, Cecil, she decided to have the surgery. Two and a half years later, Cecil underwent surgery, as well.
Today, the Vancouver couple have lost 200 pounds and trimmed dozens of inches off their figures. With the weight loss, they’ve gained energy, motivation and self-esteem. They’ve also gained healthy eating and exercise habits.
“It was a life-changing event,” Cecil said.
Gastric bypass surgery reduces the size of a person’s stomach from the size of a football to about the size of an egg, said Dr. Valerie Halpin, a bariatric surgeon at the Weight and Diabetes Institute at Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center in Portland.
By reducing the size of the stomach, the person is unable to eat as much food at one time as they used to. That, Halpin said, is how people lose most of the weight.
A majority of the weight comes off within the first 12 months, Halpin said. A person who is 100 pounds overweight should lose about 70 pounds one year after the surgery, she said. About 10 percent of people who undergo surgery will gain the weight back, she said.
The institute’s weight-management program also teaches patients about healthful foods, proper portion sizes and incorporating physical activity into daily routines, Halpin said.
“People that are most successful with surgery are the people who do all the other things that go with it,” Halpin said. “I think that’s something Cecil and Charlane are doing really well.”
When Charlane — who is just 4 feet 10 inches tall — first looked into the surgery she was “240 pounds and miserable.”
She had no self-esteem. She was taking numerous medications to manage a slew of medical problems, including high blood pressure and off-the-charts cholesterol. She needed a CPAP machine, which is a type of ventilation therapy that keeps airways open. She was also borderline diabetic.
Since the surgery on Oct. 20, 2010, Charlane has been able to ditch the CPAP machine. She no longer needs medication for her blood pressure. Her cholesterol levels have come way down. Her blood-sugar levels are also normal.
Today, Charlane, 65, weighs 130 pounds. She’s dropped from a size 24 to a size 6 — the size she was in high school.
“I just wish I would’ve done it 30 years ago,” Charlane said.
Cecil has struggled off and on with his weight throughout his adult life. His weight often fluctuated; he’d gain 50 pounds, then diet to lose the extra weight.
But two years ago, Cecil was prescribed a medication after a bad bout of bronchitis. A side effect of the medication was weight gain, and Cecil packed on the pounds, going from 230 pounds to 290 pounds. The weight never came off.
“I don’t want to die from obesity,” he concluded.
Cecil — who is 5 feet 8 inches tall — weighed 290 pounds when he went into surgery April 7, 2013. Today, the 67-year-old weighs 194 pounds. He’s lost more than 43 inches off of his neck, chest, stomach, waist, arms and thighs.
Before surgery, he wore 48-inch pants. Now, his pants are 36 inches at the waist.
As the weight came off, Cecil and Charlane said their energy levels climbed.
Cecil works out at the Firstenburg Community Center daily. He walks at least one mile on the indoor track and then hits the weights for strength training and muscle toning.
“I’m gonna get back to where I was when I was 25 years old,” Cecil said. “At least I can try.”
The couple also have the energy to work in their yard, and Cecil is getting golf lessons for his new stroke — now that he doesn’t have a belly to swing around.
Charlane joins Cecil at the gym a couple days a week and also takes water aerobic classes. And for once, Charlane doesn’t feel withdrawn.
In addition to the weight loss and increased energy, the surgeries have saved the Cardwells money on monthly expenses. They were spending $350 each month on Charlane’s prescriptions. Now, she needs just one supplement for her fibromyalgia, which costs about $25 for a three-month supply.
They’ve also saved on their grocery bills. Before the surgeries, they spent $600 to $700 per month on food. A recent trip to the grocery store cost the couple less than $100. The food they bought should last them about three weeks.
“It was really gross how much food we ate,” Charlane said.
Before the surgery, Cecil said he would devour a 16-ounce T-bone steak for dinner. The steak was usually accompanied by a baked potato or French fries and maybe a side salad.
Now, a 3-ounce hamburger steak and a small tossed green salad are more than enough food, and they never feel deprived, he said.
“I don’t miss eating the big meals,” Cecil said.
Cecil and Charlane have vowed to continue their healthy lifestyles — for themselves, for each other and for their families.
“I’m bouncing back,” Cecil said. “I want to die healthy.”