Colleen Smith



It is June 2014, I am 19 month post-surgery from gastric bypass and 55kg down from my starting weight.  In fact by 8 months post op I was 48kg down.  Sounds exciting hey? Sounds easy hey?  Think again…….     

There is no bigger misconception than “this is the easy way out”.  There is nothing easy about this journey.  In fact I’d be inclined to say that this has been the hardest journey of my life.  Every meal is a challenge, every mouthful is a challenge, every day is a challenge.  I clearly remember my surgeon telling me “remember we operate on your stomach, and not your head”.  Boy was he right?!  My head still wants to eat but my pouch says NO, it’s not going to happen!  I am however grateful to my therapist for the 18 months that she held my hand and walked with me through the emotional journey.  I had spent the vast majority of my life using food as a drug to numb the pain I was carrying, and without the food, I now had to deal with the issues, and face them head on.  That was very painful, as I could no longer mask the feelings and fears. I had to face the fact that I was an addict, and my drug of choice was food.      

All my memories are of an overweight child. In my matric year, I weighed 75kg, but was comforted by the fact that my mother had told me I was “big boned”.   When I fell pregnant with my first child at 19 years of age, my weight ballooned to 100kg, and that is where my battle with weight started and a constant cycle of losing weight and regaining the weight (with friends) began. There were many periods in my life where I lost significant amounts of weight, but I always regained the weight – and then some. In 2012, I was tipping the scales at 117.6kg, my BMI was 41.7 (Obese Class III – Morbidly obese). I can honestly say I had tried every available alternative to lose weight. I had tried every weight loss club, every slimming club with machines, blood test diets, gym and exercise clubs, shakes and pills, hypnosis, and every fad diet in between, you name it – I had tried it.  I had tried to tell myself that at 52 years of age, I was destined to be fat, and that I had to accept this fact.  I had spent 35 years of my life fighting this monster, and just couldn’t do it anymore.  I was only lying to myself – I was utterly miserable. No person in their right mind would chose to live a life of morbid obesity.  I had already been told by my GP that I needed to do something about my weight, otherwise I would be dead in about 5 years.  My life was a struggle.  My mobility was becoming an issue.  I was struggling with sores under my breasts,  between my legs and under the folds of skin.  My confidence was at an all time low, and I was beginning to live a reclusive life, only going to work and back.  My co-morbidities were a rapidly growing list, and with diabetes in my family, it was only a matter of time…  

I had spent countless evenings watching “Fat Doctor” and “Family Fat Surgeons” on television, dreaming of the “if only”.  I had absolutely no idea that bariatric surgery was even done in this country.  By the grace of God, I stumbled upon a letter on the internet written by someone who used the pen name of “Fatty Boom-Boom”, and living in Kempton Park, Gauteng.  I started to read her letter, and she was speaking about LapBand surgery that she was due to undergo.  I mailed her, and through her, I started my own search.  To say I was elated to find Durban Bariatric Surgery is an understatement. I had already spent about 18 months researching the various options available, and reading.  I read, read and read some more (22 books in all) to ensure that I fully understood all the options and what I was possibly getting myself into.  The more I researched, the more I became convinced that this was the only long lasting option that was going to give me weigh loss with a possibility of permanency. I knew I had to have this surgery, but there was absolutely no way I could afford it, and as far as I knew, there was no way that medical aids would pay for it, because they do not cover obesity.  To my surprise, I found in my research that some medical aids and certain options do cover the surgery, but that there was strict qualification criteria that applied in order to be approved for the surgery.  I researched further, and found the list of qualification criteria.  I was overjoyed to find that I met all of the qualification criteria. One of the criteria was that, if approved, it had to be performed at a “centre of excellence”, that was serviced by a multidisciplinary team of medical professionals.  Durban Bariatric Surgery and St Augustines Hospital met the criteria as set down. Armed with all of this information, and a mixture of excitement and fear, I made an appointment to see Dr Funnell in August 2012.  I was told by Dr Funnell that I was indeed a candidate for the surgery, and that gastric bypass Roux-en-Y was ideal for me, so the process was put in motion.  I was seen by all of the medical professionals in the team, and then my application was submitted to medical aid.   I was declined.  To say I was gutted was an understatement.  I appealed, and was declined again!  My husband by now had realized how desperate I was to have the surgery, and offered to raise the finance to pay for my surgery, as my date was already set (27 November 2012) and it was 2 days before my scheduled surgery.  I didn’t give up the fight.  I appealed again, but still went ahead as a cash patient.  In March of 2013 I was overwhelmed to receive a call from my medical aid to say that the matter had been placed in front of the medical board, and a decision had been made to cover my surgery.  I was going to be reimbursed for 80% of the costs we had outlaid.    

One of the prerequisites before the surgery was that I had to follow a special diet for 3 months, and then also a liquid diet pre-op.  I worked extremely hard to ensure that I was compliant. I din’t want to jeopardize my chances of having the surgery.  I also worked very hard at starting to incorporate some of the lifelong lifestyle changes into my life, before surgery, so that it wouldn’t be such a huge shock post surgery.  Things like chewing my food until it was puree.  If I couldn’t chew it, I didn’t swallow it.  Putting my knife and fork down between bites.  Eating my protein first.  Cutting out all fizzy drinks.  Strictly following the water rule of no water for ½ hour before, during or ½ hour after meals.  Cutting out all refined / white carbohydrates.    

I was wheeled into surger on the morning of 27 November 2012.  When I woke up from surgery, I had absolutely no pain whatsoever, and my first thought was that the op had not been done.  I was mortified, but Dr Funnell soon allayed those fears, and said all had gone well.  Then I transitioned to a state of absolute  euphoria.  I couldn’t believe that my new life was about to start.  Soon after surgery, I became acutely aware of the fact that I did not feel hungry. 

From the time I got home, the very small food portions as set down by the Dietician became a challenge.  I really struggled to even eat the 1 spoonful of food.  Sounds crazy!  You can’t imagine feeling full on such minute quantities of food, but you are. 

I had absolutely no complications and made absolutely sure that I followed the surgeon and rest of the professional team’s guidelines to the absolute letter.  I am an all or nothing girl.  There are no half measure with me. 

I was gutted when I got on the scale on leaving the hospital, and found that I had gained 2kg in 2 days.  How could it be possible.  I was convinced that this surgery wasn’t going to work for me, and I was going to be a failure yet again.  I soon found out that it was water retention, and nothing to worry about.  My weight started to literally melt away.  Dr Funnell cleared me for exercise, and I started to exercise as much and as often as I could to maximize the weight loss.  I was determined to use the honeymoon period to it’s fullest potential. 

In total I have lost 55 kg and am loving my new life.  I am maintaining my weight through exercising regularly and being very careful with what I eat, and how much I eat.

This is not “the easy way out” and don’t let anyone every try to tell you that it is.  None-the-less, as hard as this journey has been, it is without a doubt the best decision I have ever made.  I don’t have any regrets, and would do it over again in a heartbeat.   I am 100% healthy, all of my co-morbidities have resolved, I lead an active life, and the weight loss has catapulted my self-confidence and self-esteem the another level.

 I am so grateful to Dr Funnell for his expertise, and for his compassion and understanding of those of us who struggle daily with the disease of obesity. 

I would recommend the surgery to anybody who qualifies for it, but advise you to thoroughly research and understand what you are getting into.  Don’t be tempted by what appears to be a “magic pill”.  It is anything but…….but it is worth all of the challenges.  You deserve this.    

Surgeon: Dr Ivor Funnel

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