Wareham's Southcoast Center for Weight Loss celebrates 14,000 pounds lost
Much of what the men and women at the reunion had in common was what they'd lost.
Diabetes. High blood pressure and high cholesterol. Sleep apnea. Fad diets. A whole lot of medication.
With their peers, a collective 14,250 pounds.
But also what they gained: A second chance at life.
"It's long been a desire of mine to host a reunion for all of you," Dr. Rayford Kruger, bariatric surgeon and medical director for the Wareham-based Southcoast Center for Weight Loss told the approximately 150 patients gathered outside the Southcoast Health System offices on Rosebrook Way on Saturday, May 4.
The reunion was a celebration of the nonprofit hitting a milestone: It's helped 3,500 patients in the nine years the Southcoast Center for Weight Loss has been in operation.
Bariatric surgery is a weight loss option for people who are clinically obese -- more than 100 pounds overweight. It involves modifying the stomach so that patients feel fuller faster and thus consume less food, which leads to weight loss.
Kruger practices with surgeons Donald Colacchio and Thomas Streeter.
The reunion's keynote speaker was Katie Jay, founder of the National Association for Weight Loss Surgery. The event featured cooking and fitness demonstrations, a "Walk with a Southcoast Doc" through the adjacent cranberry bogs, photo sessions, and other activities.
Like the butterflies used in the event's theme, Kruger told the patients and the family members and friends who attended in support of their loved ones, "you've all undergone a transformation."
It was a testament to their commitment to a healthier lifestyle, to a second chance at life, he said.
And that sentiment was not lost on the patients.
Wareham resident Ann-Marie Gallows, 59, had surgery nearly four years ago. She weighed 279 pounds.
"I've been heavy ever since I was a kid," she said.
Despite remaining active, she could not lose weight.
"My health was failing," she said. "I wanted to be around to see my grandkids."
Along with her sister, Eve Burr of New Bedford, Gallows tried diets, but to no avail.
After having the surgery, Gallows lost 120 pounds.
Just four months after the procedure, she became a Zumba exercise instructor, and has kept all but approximately 20 pounds of the weight off.
Burr also decided to have the surgery, and lost 125 pounds. The pair now support each other in their new lifestyles.
"You want to fall back to old habits," Burr explained.
Gallows' first grandchild was born four months ago. She doesn't plan on slowing down any time soon.
"It's the best thing I've ever done," she said of the surgery.
Leisha O'Brien, 42, of Wareham, weighed 240 pounds when she had bariatric surgery 16 months ago.
O'Brien was finding it hard to keep up with the middle-school students she teaches in New Bedford.
She's lost 110 pounds and went from a size 22 to a size 6.
"I feel great," she said. "I can do so much."
Part of what has helped O'Brien is the support of family and friends.
Her husband, 40-year-old Neil, had the surgery four years ago after his weight-related health problems nearly killed him. He, too, has turned his life around.
"It's just brought us even closer as a couple," O'Brien said. "We want to embrace life. ... We want to have a family and we want to keep up with our kids."
Melissa Beresford, 45, of Bourne, is also part of O'Brien's support network.
The two met in a pre-surgery support group. Their surgery dates ended up on the same day. Then, they found themselves roommates at Tobey Hospital.
"We would turn to the food" when life was stressful, O'Brien said. But now, "we can get together and go for a walk."
Saying that she was a person who would hide chocolate and eat it during stressful times, Beresford told O'Brien with a smile: "Now, I call you."
Beresford weighed more than 400 pounds when she had the surgery and has lost 166 pounds so far.
"I feel better," she said, "so I'm always smiling."
Kruger stressed the importance of supporting each other during the long road of recovering from surgery and keeping the weight off. He told the reunion attendees that the veterans should support each other, as well as those not as far from their operations.
Kruger told his patients: "You can't do this alone."
But with 3,500 other local patients experiencing similar successes and challenges... they won't.
For more information about the Southcoast Center for Weight Loss and its various programs, visit www.southcoast.org/weightloss.