'It's like having a stomach the size of a football, and then it's reduced to one that's the size of a tennis ball' - a woman's zest for life after gastric-bypass
Weight has an uncanny way of sneakily creeping up on someone over time. Siobhan Daly tells Joy Orpen that in her case, gastric-bypass surgery proved to be the answer to her ever-increasing dress size
When Siobhan Daly (51) goes out for a meal, she does so to enjoy the company of friends and family. The food, on the other hand, is very much a secondary issue. That is in stark contrast to what used to happen, when food was a primary focus in her life.
Siobhan, one of six children, grew up in Santry, north Dublin. When she was 21, she married Stephen Daly, and they have three grown-up children. For much of her adult life, Siobhan worked for Eason. "I'm still there, part-time," she says.
There is every likelihood that two years ago, some of Siobhan's regulars noticed a somewhat diminished version of her. And that's because she had finally tackled the problem of her increasing girth.
"I never had a problem as a child," she says. "But after my second pregnancy, I grew heavier. So I went to a slimming club and lost four stone. Then, after my third child, I put on more weight, but this time it stayed on."
At one point, Siobhan was over 22 stone. One of the many drawbacks to her weight was finding decent clothes that fitted. "As a larger lady, you don't buy things because you like them, you get them to cover you up," she says. "And even though my family never judged the way I looked, I judged myself."
But even so, Siobhan found it tough to drop the pounds, because food was so central to their lifestyle. "Every family occasion that cropped up, we'd go for a meal, have a barbecue, or a party," she says. "I never ate for comfort; it was more about enjoying good food in the company of friends and family."
About 10 years ago, Siobhan's GP became so concerned about her weight, he sent her for a glucose tolerance test, which revealed that she had type 2 diabetes.
"Even though both my parents were of average size, they both had type 2 diabetes," she explains. "So I wasn't too surprised. But being overweight meant I had to take 10 or 11 tablets every day for cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure; as well as having an injection once a week."
Over the years, Siobhan made attempts to reduce her weight. "I kept trying to give up [things]," she says. "I'd stick to the diet, and I would lose some weight, but then it would pile on again."
Meanwhile, life was getting increasingly stressful. In 2014, her much-loved sister, Catherine McGrath, died from cancer. Then a sister-in-law got another form of cancer - but thankfully she made a full recovery. Meanwhile, Siobhan developed a hernia, which added to her health issues. "I was becoming tired, fed up and frustrated," she admits. So, in 2014, she asked the doctor treating her for diabetes if surgery might be an option. And though he thought it could be of benefit, Siobhan put it on the long finger.
But finally, in 2016, things came to a head when Stephen was diagnosed with a serious illness. At the time, Siobhan was also facing the prospect of turning 50 the following year. "So I decided to take the bull by the horns and get fit and healthy," she explains.
She was referred to the Blackrock Clinic, where she learned that a gastric bypass would be her best option. She was given a physical examination and then was assessed by a psychologist. "They do some pre-surgery tests to be certain you're physically and mentally fit for the procedure," Siobhan explains. "They want to make sure you're doing it for the right reasons."
Prior to the operation, she was asked to lose some weight to reduce the number of fatty cells in her liver. She lost a stone. During the surgery in July 2017, Siobhan's stomach was divided. A small gastric pouch was formed, which was then connected to her small intestine.
"Gastric bypass works by reducing portion sizes, as well as gently reducing calorie absorption," explains Mr Mayilone Arumugasamy, consultant upper-GI and bariatric surgeon, who performed Siobhan's procedure. "This allows for a more enhanced weight loss. This procedure can also have immediate effects on diabetes, with many patients leaving the hospital after a few days on reduced, or even no more, diabetic medications."
"It's like having a stomach the size of a football, and then it's reduced to one that's the size of a tennis ball," Siobhan explains. "You just can't eat big portions any more." She says she was a little uncomfortable when she woke after the surgery because they had fixed the hernia at the same time. For the first couple of weeks, she needed a soft-foods diet while her stomach was healing.
These days, Siobhan has a very different eating pattern to before. "Because my stomach has shrunk, I'd feel nauseous if I ate too much food. So now I only have small portions," she says. "On a Sunday, we used to have a big fry-up. Now I'll just have a sausage and an egg. I don't have toast, bacon or hash browns. We don't do takeaways any more, I only drink one glass of wine, and I don't have dessert."
The end result of all this is that Siobhan is now down to about 12-and-a-half stone. "I go to Florida every November," she says. "I used to dread the flight, because the belt was too tight and the seat was very uncomfortable, given my size. Now I'm able to buckle the belt with room to spare, and I can pull the tray all the way down."
Siobhan says she feels fit and light and ready for anything when she wakes up in the morning. Her diabetes has been reversed, so the only medication she needs now is one low-dose pill for blood pressure.
Stephen says the family never put pressure on Siobhan to lose weight. "This was something she wanted for herself. She didn't need to improve anything for us," he says. "We loved her as she was. The decision [as a family] was based on the health benefits rather than appearance. But since she's had the gastric bypass, she has absolutely blossomed."
Siobhan's surgery cost in the region of €18,000. Her medical insurance paid more than two-thirds of the cost. But she and Stephen reckon that the savings that will be made, in terms of long-term health and emotional issues, make the whole exercise truly worthwhile.
An extremely glamorous and now trim Siobhan agrees. "In the end, the decision to go ahead was based on the long-term health benefits," she says. "But an added bonus is that I now have so much more energy and an increased zest for life."
For more information, contact Blackrock Clinic, see weightlosssurgery.blackrock-clinic.ie