From a wheelchair to the dance floor
Barbara looked for comfort in food. Over-eating lead to years of extreme weight gain, diabetes, and a complex spiral of medical conditions that put her in a wheelchair for one important, heartbreaking week. But when she reached out for help from the team at Geisinger, her life—and her health—rebounded in dramatic ways
As a child, neither Barbara nor her family could possibly have known how overeating would plague her.
“I was an ‘emotional eater,’” says the Williamsport resident, now 50. “I ate to make myself feel better.”
In one early attempt to lose weight, she turned natural athleticism on the basketball court into a college scholarship. Though obviously talented and driven to succeed, her habit of “emotional eating” persisted. Between gaining weight while she was pregnant and eating when she was depressed, she eventually reached 275 pounds. Her family physician warned her of the dangers.
Since the surgery, I've lost 115 pounds. No more diabetes, acid reflux, and sleep apnea; no more huffing and puffing; my joints don't hurt. And when those grandkids come along, I'll be in shape to take them to the park.
“My doctor told me during one physical that I was at risk for diabetes,” she recalls. “A year or two later, I had to start taking medication for it. He told me that if nothing else changed, that eventually I would need daily insulin shots. That scared me.”
Diet plans, products don’t work
With each warning, Barbara tried hard to lose weight. She kiddingly claims to have bought every weight loss and diet product ever sold on TV. She tried gyms, videotapes, and many diet plans.
Her weight yo-yoed. And as she got larger, Barbara’s list of medical problems grew longer. Her work, which involves teens who have physical handicaps, became increasingly difficult, and then dangerous. She recalls one spring afternoon when a teenaged boy fell from his wheelchair onto her.
“I tried to break his fall, so I let him fall on me,” she says of the young man. “Within a few days, my side started swelling. Then the muscles in the entire right side of my body were frozen, immobile.”
Another diagnosis puts her on the sidelines
Through visits to rheumatology specialists, Barbara learned that the pain and discomfort was caused by rheumatoid arthritis. The trauma of the fall plus her weight had caused it to flare up. It was a condition that could affect her for her entire life.
“For three days, I was practically paralyzed,” she says. “I was in a wheelchair for a week after that.”
Barbara’s accident occurred just before high school graduation, when one of her students, who uses a wheelchair, was to graduate.
“I was so excited for him, but I was supposed to escort him down the aisle,” she recalls. “As he was wheeled past me in his cap and gown, I thought ‘That’s supposed to be me pushing him.’ I’d worked with him for six years, and I had to sit there on the sidelines, in my own wheelchair.”
Diabetes interferes with important medications
Over time, medications helped her recover from this first extreme episode of arthritis. However, diabetes soon caused a problem with the treatment. The medication that was so effective at calming the inflammation of arthritis can be dangerous for people with diabetes if they use it long-term. She had to switch to another drug.
“My doctor said that as long as I stayed heavy, (before surgery at right) that I was going to continue having problems with arthritis,” she says. “I thought that if I didn’t get healthier, that I was either going to die or be in a wheelchair the rest of my life. I finally decided I was too young to live like this.”
A solution in sight, diabetic no longer
Her physicians at Geisinger recommended bariatric weight loss surgery. “They gave me a 99 percent chance that I would not be a diabetic anymore after the surgery,” she says. “They also said my arthritis should get much better. I was motivated. I wanted my life back.”
Determined to fight both obesity and the diabetes that plagued her, Barbara began to prepare for a successful surgery. She began eating right and exercising.
“After the surgery, I came home without any medications,” she says with a broad smile. “I no longer needed pills for cholesterol, arthritis, gastric reflux or diabetes. I didn’t need the breathing machine at night. And I don’t have diabetes anymore.”
To the dance floor
Over the next 15 months, she lost over 100 pounds. Now weighing in at only 159, this 5’ 8 ½” dynamo is back to her college weight. She bypasses the elevators at work, in favor of the stairs. And at her 50th birthday party, she didn’t stop dancing the entire night. Her sons, one in the U.S. Navy and one at Penn State, had trouble recognizing her in the most recent photograph she sent them.
“If not for Geisinger, I’d be in a wheelchair, sitting at home with a disability, waiting for someone to take care of me,” she says. “Instead, my husband calls me the ‘Energizer bunny’. Thank God all this was around.”