Lynette Crews was eating herself to death.
Overweight all her adult life, she had tried many different diets and even taken medication to control her weight.
“I would lose a little and then gain a lot,” she said.
But things really began to spiral out of control in 1998. Crews, who was 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 180 pounds at the time, was involved in a motor vehicle accident that left her in a wheelchair.
Always “a very active person” before the resulting amputation, Crews began to put on more and more weight. By January 2011, she topped 300 pounds.
“Three hundred pounds was more debilitating to me than the above-the-knee amputation,” said Crews, 42, of Macclenny.
“I had every co-morbidity. I had insomnia, sleep apnea, high cholesterol, severe diabetes, the list goes on and on.”
That led her to Miroslav Uchal, director of bariatric surgery for St. Vincent’s HealthCare.
While Crews’ situation was an extreme case, obesity is increasingly common among Americans, Uchal said.
Obesity is defined as a medical condition in which excess body fat has accumulated to the extent that it may have an adverse effect on health.
According to the American Medical Association, obesity contributes to 112,000 preventable deaths each year.
It has increased in the adult population from 13 percent of adults in 1980 to 34 percent of adults in 2008.
Among children, it increased from 5 percent to 17 percent during the same time period.
Faced with those statistics, the American Medical Association last month classified obesity as a disease, a decision with which Uchal agrees.
“It’s a logical conclusion to all the debate and discussion,” he said.
There are “many issues, many causes” that lead to obesity, Uchal said. Certain medication such as anti-depressants and some birth control pills can affect the metabolism and lead to weight gain.
But the largest contributing factor is “what people eat and how they eat,” Uchal said. “It’s an addiction.”
There are, of course, a wide range of approaches to treating obesity.
Crews had tried many without getting favorable results. She was desperate when she turned to Uchal in 2011.
As a bariatric surgeon, Uchal uses several surgical procedures to treat obese patients.
The least invasive involves laproscopic banding, placing a gastric sleeve around the stomach that limits the amount of food that can be consumed at any one time.
The most extreme option is gastric bypass surgery, which divides the stomach into two chambers with the result that “food bypasses most of the stomach,” Uchal said.
That was the procedure Crews underwent at St. Vincent’s Medical Center Riverside on May 11, 2011.
As she began to recover, she knew that the surgery was only the first step. She had to change the way she ate and become active again.
“I have a great support team,” she said. “They teach me how to lead a different life.”
The first time she worked out, she lasted 91 seconds and thought she was having a heart attack.
“I had no idea how sick I was,” she said.
But she kept at it. Now, two years later, she weighs less than 170 pounds and more than 30 pounds of that is excess skin that she plans to have surgically removed.
She’s out of the wheelchair and able to walk.
She regularly walks more than 5 miles on a treadmill.
The mother of four and grandmother of five said she’s “healthier than I’ve ever been in my whole life.”
And, like Uchal, she applauds the American Medical Association’s declaration that obesity is a disease.
“If more doctors would treat it as a disease, we would be a healthier society,” she said.
Read more at Jacksonville.com: http://jacksonville.com/news/health-and-fitness/2013-07-10/story/local-woman-shedding-weight-after-undergoing-gastric-bypass#ixzz2YjzI2svR