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10/8/10: Destination happiness: One woman's journey with surgical weight loss

Losing Linda
By age 50, Fitchburg resident Linda Johnson was 90 pounds overweight.  Her health stats were equally grim: in addition to battling obesity, she also struggled with diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension. 

Johnson, a pediatric nurse and the mother of two adult children, had battled weight gain for most of her adult life. A typical “yo-yo” dieter, she tried a slew of weight-control methods over the years, from Weight Watchers and LA Weight Loss to South Beach and starvation diets. “In my 20s and 30s it never really seemed that bad,” she said. “I was always able to take the weight off, but I was also great at putting it back on.”    

Over the years, that extra weight resulted in both a physical and emotional burden. “There were things I stopped doing, because I felt ‘too fat,’ things like motorcycle rides with my husband, beach trips, camping in a tent, sleeping on an air mattress, and amusement park rides with my grandson,” she said. “These were all too difficult physically and emotionally to continue to do. Just walking and bending to tie my shoes became arduous chores.  Running or exercising was impossible.”  

Johnson began to retreat from her friendships, too. “Getting together with friends became an embarrassment for me,” she said. “I hated how I looked, and I felt people would judge me on my inability to control myself.  It was a very low time for me, creating the cycle of overeating to feel better.”

The pursuit of happiness 
Finally, Johnson found herself forced to confront her health issues when she was not accepted into an experimental trial for a vagal nerve stimulator [a type of treatment in which short bursts of electrical energy are directed into the brain via the vagus nerve, a large nerve in the neck]. At a crossroads, this was Johnson’s turning point. “When I was disqualified due to Barrett’s esophagus [a condition in which the tissue lining the esophagus—the muscular tube that connects the mouth to the stomach—is replaced by tissue that is similar to the lining of the intestine], I was devastated,” she said. “It was at that point that I thought I’d look into bariatric surgery. My first thought was to have the lap band, but after attending my first information session, I felt that bypass would be my best option.” 

On June 28, 2008, Johnson began the pre-surgical weight loss program. By following dietary guidelines provided by Emerson’s surgical weight loss program, she lost 20% of her total body weight by mid-August (Emerson’s surgical weight loss program requires that patients lose 5-10% pre-operative weight loss). Surgery was scheduled for September 2, 2008.  In fact, it was this pre-operative weight loss program that prepared Johnson for her impending surgery.  “That was one of the best things about going through the weight loss program at Emerson,” said Johnson. “Their pre-surgical work-up not only cleared me medically, but really helped to prepare me mentally.  I was very calm and eager.”

From the moment Johnson donned a hospital johnny, she felt supported by Emerson staff. “My experience was exceptional from the first day,” she said. “The staff at Emerson were very attentive. Everyone from the secretaries in the surgical suite to the nurses on the floors were excellent. They made sure we were well-informed about each step and took the time to answer all the questions my husband and I had.”  

Coming home
After two post-operative days at Emerson, Johnson was discharged home.  She recovered quickly, and although she took the full 30 days off from work, she was well enough physically to return to work after two weeks.   

Over the subsequent months, she lost weight at a steady pace while she learned how to transform old eating habits. “The staff were so supportive,” she said. “They were always there to answer questions and offer direction.” 

She lost weight quickly at first and then slowed to an average of three to four pounds per week until she reached her current weight almost a year after surgery. She has since maintained this weight, only fluctuating a few ounces. 

Johnson attributes her success to Emerson’s surgical weight loss clinical team. “They are a very caring and compassionate group,” said Johnson. “I know I had to do a lot of the work and change, but they gave me the tools and the support I needed while treating me with respect and dignity.  They made it possible for me to not only want to change but to actually learn how to change.  That's something I never got from other weight loss programs.” 

Weightless: Life after size 10
Since the surgery, Johnson has reclaimed her life and in the process, she has redefined success and beauty. “The change in my life since the surgery is astronomical,” she said. “It is so much more than looking good or wearing a size 10. The weight loss has changed my life. My health has improved. I have my diabetes controlled with diet alone. But I think the biggest change is how I feel. There seems to be a spring in my step – I can sit on the floor and get back up again. I can bend to tie my shoes without getting winded, and I can keep up with my nine-year-old grandson every day. I wake every morning feeling so energetic and refreshed because I slept through the night because my sleep apnea, though not gone, has resolved enough that I no longer need the CPAP machine.  I exercise every morning and not only look forward to doing it but really hate those days that I can't fit it in.” 

At her job, Johnson has found that her own journey to health has better equipped her to care for her littlest patients. “There's been such an improvement at work - not only am I on my feet a lot, but now it's much easier for me to move around and to be able to interact with my patients on their level,” she said. “That is actually one of my proudest accomplishments.  I can bend down and get into a crouching position.  Now my knees don't give out or hurt and I can stand back up without assistance.  It's the simple things about being fit that still amaze me.” 

Recently, Johnson was promoted to team leader. “Although I know I earned the promotion because of my skills and ability, I also know that accepting the position was much easier knowing I could physically handle the job,” she said.

But Johnson really knew she had arrived at her final destination, happiness, on a vacation last September in Tennessee when she did a zip-line tour. “Yes, one of those harness rides through the tree canopy of the Smoky Mountains,” she said. “We also hiked a mountain trail, and I was able to keep up.” 

For more information on Emerson's surgical weight loss program, call 978-287-3532 or click here.