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"Happy Fatty" is how Debe Gau, of St. Francis, described herself prior to weight loss surgery. "I didn’t know I was fat, and I didn’t know that the health issues I had were related to my weight. Up until the winter of 1999, I believed I was healthy. That changed when my legs started hurting for no apparent reason." After exhausting all pain relief options without success, Debe underwent a Dexa scan. At age 42, she was diagnosed with osteoporosis.
Upon learning her leg pain was caused by multiple stress fractures from excess weight, Debe was both stunned and upset. "Up until then no one ever told me I was overweight. Oh sure, the word ‘obese’ appeared in my medical records, but no one ever told me, out loud, to my face." As emotional as this was for Debe, it started what she calls her "Transformative Journey."
Weight loss journey
Debe was referred to Dr. Daniel Baker at the Unity Hospital Bariatric Center, and after lengthy discussions with her husband and family, as well a great deal of soul searching, underwent Roux en Y gastric bypass surgery in October of 2001. "Dr. Dan was compassionate and passionate about his work, and I felt I would be well cared for and also cared about." Debe also had, and continues to have, high regards for her bariatric nurse clinician, Diane Gladhill.
At her initial meeting with Diane, Debe had concerns that her insurance may not cover the procedure, since her BMI was less than 40, at 36.4. "Diane was not only honest, but also sincere, when she looked at me and said, ‘We can help you. I’m not sure if you’ll have insurance coverage, but we’ll do all we can to get this covered for you.’" The Unity Hospital Bariatric Center successfully argued Debe’s case and her insurance company covered the procedure.
When asked how life has changed since losing weight, Debe’s face lit up. "Most importantly, my leg pain went away. Halleluiah," she said. "Additionally, my husband and I visited Alaska, resumed hiking and bought a tandem bicycle so we could go on rides together." Debe’s family has been very supportive of her process and have celebrated her many milestones. Having once hidden behind clothes and long hair, Debe lost her long locks and now dresses with a great deal of personality. "I had to rediscover myself as a thinner person. Although I was the same person, I was now treated a bit differently. Men hold open doors, smile and sometimes say hello. Other women smile as I pass by, and, every now and again, I get ‘checked out’ by strangers." This was a bit of a struggle for Debe initially, as she resented that as an obese person, she felt she was looked down upon. "I have learned to accept all of this with grace, but I am now acutely aware of how obese people are treated."
Successful weight loss patient
Debe’s transformation didn’t end there. As a successful weight loss patient with the upmost respect for the Unity Hospital Bariatric Center, Debe joined the bariatric team in 2003. "Ironically, when my husband and I first met with nurse clinician Diane, he predicted that I would one day work here. He believed that the caring nature of the program matched my own nature. At the time I laughed and said ‘There is no way I would commute this far,’ but somehow, two years after my surgery, that is exactly what I was doing. Debe has been an administrative assistant at the Unity Hospital Bariatric Center for the past ten years. "It’s so rewarding to be a part of this team and to help others to transform their health and their lives. I love what I do."
When asked how she would describe herself today, Debe said first, and foremost – a success. "I had my surgery and never regretted the choice, even when it was difficult. I have worked hard to fall in love with myself again, and I’ve been able to remain the same size/weight for the last 9+ years." So what’s next for Debe? "Paddle boarding, taking a ride on a zip line and of course shopping for new funky clothes…and that’s just the beginning."