Diets and other weight-loss programs didn’t stick for Edris Patterson.
To lose weight and kick off a healthier lifestyle, she took a drastic step—gastric sleeve surgery. The surgery, plus regular exercise and a healthier diet, helped her drop 70 pounds.
“It’s about trying to do everything medically possible to monitor the health issues,” said Patterson, a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, high school math coach. “My first cousin had bypass surgery at age 49, which scared me.”
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American women. As an obese black woman living in the South with a family history of heart disease, Patterson was at even greater risk.
Patterson, 50, began gaining weight as she aged and ate more when under stress. The most she weighed was around 250 pounds the year before surgery.
Her family has a long history of heart disease and high cholesterol or high blood pressure, increasing heart disease risk. Some of her grandfather’s siblings died of heart disease before age 40. Her mother has a small artery blockage and four her mother’s siblings had heart bypass surgery and one died of congestive heart failure.
“You ignore it because it’s the older people, but when it gets down to the next generation, you look at it more critically,” Patterson said. “After my cousin’s bypass surgery, I thought I needed to do something.”
Studies show that weight-loss surgery, plus lifestyle changes, can dramatically reduce the risk of heart disease and heart failure. Patterson considered various options for more than a year before choosing laparoscopic gastric sleeve surgery in 2014.
Gastric sleeve is the most popular type of bariatric surgery, accounting for more than half of such procedures, according to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. The surgery is usually recommended for people with a body mass index of 40 or higher. But it may also be used in people with a BMI of 35 or higher who have at least one obesity-related health problem. Before surgery, Patterson’s BMI was 41.1.
The operation removes part of the stomach, creating a “sleeve” that connects to the small intestine. Before surgery, Patterson underwent a standard psychiatric evaluation and lost 15 pounds to limit post-surgery complications.
She said having the support of then-fiancé-now-husband, Isaac Patterson, was crucial.
“It was something that she wanted to do, and my role is to support her and give her encouragement,” said Isaac, a longtime runner. “I was pleasantly happy with her as she was, and I’m pleasantly happy with the change.”
Patterson said surgery was just the start of the journey. A smaller stomach means she eats smaller portions, but she also eats healthier. Her day used to start with a 44-ounce soda. Now she’s cut back on sugar and carbohydrates, and has added more fish and chicken, changes that have helped lower her high cholesterol. She also walks 30 minutes every day. She’s walked in several 5Ks and 10Ks while Isaac runs. Last year, she was a team captain for the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk in Baton Rouge.
Lifestyle changes have benefited the whole family. Isaac lowered his high cholesterol, while Patterson’s 16-year-old son, Wesley Ennis, took up wrestling and lost about 45 pounds.
Today, Patterson weighs 195, up from a low of 179. She’s had some setbacks: a hysterectomy and her mother’s lung cancer diagnosis last year.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned is that you fall off the bandwagon, recognize that and just get back on,” Patterson said.