'I worried my weight would kill me' - Dad-of-three (49) on how bariatric surgery helped him drop five stone
After years struggling with weight, bariatric surgery saved my life, writes Kevin McGee
I remember from an early age being described as someone who was 'big boned'. A lot of obese people say they began to gain weight early in their childhood, and while I don't remember anything significant happening or being said to me, I do remember knowing I was different to my friends.
It was only really when I hit my late thirties that my weight started to have an impact on my health. As an agri-mechanic, I was always on the go but it was when I started my own agri-machinery business 12 years ago that I became sedentary and I put on even more weight.
It was 2003 when I first experienced chest pain which led to the first stent. I also had my gall bladder removed that year. My left knee was replaced in 2009 due to my job and excess weight. Then in 2012 I had a mild heart attack and from then until 2013 I had a further three stents put in.
I've tried every diet going over the years, I cut out entire food groups, went to weight-loss classes and even tried liquid diets. Some of them worked for a while but I could never sustain them and would end up giving in to my cravings and gaining back the weight I had lost, plus a few more pounds for good measure.
As the years went on, my weight continued to creep up to the point where I had developed sleep apnoea and prior to my operation I was wearing trousers with a 44-inch waist and 5XL shirts. As a father of three teenagers, I started to worry that my weight could kill me, the thought of leaving my wife and children devastated by a death which could have been prevented terrified me.
I eventually went to see my GP, Dr E Ward in Ardee, for help, I didn't know where else to turn and she knew I had tried desperately to lose weight for a long time. My GP had recently been to a talk with bariatric surgeon John Conneely and she asked could she refer me to his clinic in the Mater Private. I was delighted, I had a good feeling about it.
A few weeks later I went to see John and after taking a detailed health summary, he said he thought I could be a candidate. Over the next six months I met John, who would perform the surgery, a number of times. I also met with endocrinologist Dr Claire Gavin who evaluated my liver function, psychologist Dr Ian Gargan who helped me face some demons and prepared me for a new way of life as well as dieticians Maryclare and Caitriona. They equipped me with the tools to ensure my surgery would be a success, taught me about healthy food options, and showed me how to re-wean myself on to solid food post-surgery.
The surgery was booked for April 24 and two weeks beforehand I had my pre-op assessment. I stepped on the scales and to my horror I was 150kg. I never owned scales at home, so I never really knew how much I weighed.
The next two weeks were spent on a high protein liquid diet designed to shrink my liver which was tough, of course, but I was so motivated to succeed that I never even considered giving up.
The surgery, called a Laparoscopic Sleeve Gastrectomy, is non-reversible and removed about 75pc to 80pc of my stomach, leaving a narrow gastric sleeve. Mr Conneely performed the procedure laparoscopically meaning only five or six small incisions were made into my stomach and the surgery was performed using a video camera and long instruments that were placed through the small incisions. I was in hospital for five days in total and during that time I did have some discomfort and pain, but I recovered well. I took two weeks off work in total and to be honest, I really did need that time to recuperate. When I was discharged from hospital I went home with a detailed list of what I could and couldn't eat and I stuck to it like glue.
It has been six months since my surgery and although I still don't own a set of weighing scales, I know I have lost 33kg from my frequent appointments with dieticians Maryclare and Caitriona in the Mater Private.
It's fair to say that my life has changed dramatically. Obviously, the weight loss has been a huge part of that but during an appointment with John I said to him "I know that physically you operated on my stomach but it feels like you operated on my head too". I have no desire to eat the foods I used to eat. I no longer crave fizzy drinks, takeaways or sweet treats. It's like a switch in my brain has turned off. John explained what happens when a large portion of your stomach is removed, the sensors around the side of your stomach which control cravings are taken away too and the hunger for those foods disappears.
I never used to drink water, I hated the taste so if I felt thirsty, I would drink a can of Coke or Club Orange, now I drink over three litres of water a day mixed with calorie-free diluted orange. I probably eat more in a day now than I did before my surgery, but I don't binge. I eat three square meals and I don't snack. I never used to have breakfast either but now I couldn't leave the house without my two eggs and turkey rashers. My portion sizes are half what they used to be, I even eat my dinner off a side plate now!
When I was recovering from my surgery I started going for a short walk each day, just from the front door, down the driveway to the gate. I slowly built that up and started doing it twice or three times a day. After a couple of weeks, I had enough energy to walk out of the gate and down the road. Now I walk for about 5km every single morning at 6am before my breakfast and at the weekend I go for longer walks. My faithful dog Milley, a golden retriever, walks the road with me every time I go out and as soon as she sees the hi-vis vest she gets excited and knows we are off.
It's only now looking back at my life before surgery that I realise how miserable I was in myself. Even though I wasn't doing any exercise, my knees ached, and I felt tired constantly. My family, colleagues and friends can't get over the energy I have now. I feel lighter, not just physically but mentally too. My kids have even said to me that my mood and character have changed for the better. I used to think that spending quality time with my family meant eating something together, like a Chinese, but we do so much more together now, the kids think I am more fun too.
I am now wearing a 38-inch waist, but I need a belt! And I am wearing 2XL shirts. I used to dread Christmas or birthdays when my wife would buy me a nice jumper or shirt and I'd end up having to return it because it didn't fit and they never had my size. Knowing I can walk into most shops and buy off the shelf is all the motivation I need to keep going. John, Maryclare and Caitriona want me to get down to 100kg, and I know I will.
My biggest regret is not having the surgery sooner. I feel like I let the last 15 years pass by in a restrictive blur, where I was stressed and unhappy with how I looked and felt. I feel like I have been given a new lease of life.
Kevin McGee is a 49-year-old married father of three from Dunleer, Co Louth
What is bariatric surgery and who is it suitable for?
* Bariatric, or weight loss, surgery is suitable for patients who are morbidly obese and who have exhausted all other avenues to lose weight.
* According to the HSE, six out of 10 adults in Ireland are overweight or obese.
* NICE clinical guidelines recommend that only patients with a Body Mass Index of 40 or more, or who have a BMI of 35-40 as well as a serious health condition, be considered for surgery.
* While the most well-known procedure is the gastric band, used by TV presenter Fern Britton, it has been surpassed by the non-invasive gastric bypass and gastrectomy (gastric sleeve) surgeries. These are usually permanent and involve restricting access to, or removing, portions of the stomach.
* Temporary interventions include the gastric balloon - which gives a feeling of fullness - and the Lap Band, which makes the patient feel fuller sooner.
* Surgery is available to patients with medical cards. However, in October 300 public patients attending the weight-management programme at St Columcille's, Loughlinstown, Dublin, were waiting for bariatric surgery at St Vincent's, where just 27 procedures were performed last year.
* Patients who can pay, or who have health insurance, can be referred to a private provider by their GP.
* Successful surgery can reduce the cost of treating serious long-term health conditions. Mater Private Consultant bariatric surgeon John Coneely, who operated on Kevin, says, "Bariatric surgery has been shown to prevent, cure or improve a number of serious health conditions related to obesity, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, infertility, heart disease, asthma, sleep apnoea and certain cancers.
* "Within the first year of the procedure, most patients lose between 50pc and 60pc of their excess body weight, provided they follow the recommended dietary and lifestyle changes."
Health & Living