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"Bariatric surgery is not a cure-all; this is a lifestyle change and I will never, ever let myself be unhealthy again."
Sandra King spread a group of photos showing the woman she was more than two years ago, when she topped the scale at 275 lbs. Now, having lost half her body weight at 69-years-old, King is almost unrecognizable from pre-surgery, except for her bright, expressive eyes and friendly smile.
"I weigh 135 lbs," King said. "It feels really good to be able to say that."
More than a year after undergoing gastric sleeve surgery, King credits her astounding success first and foremost to her faith in Jesus Christ and quotes Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Then she praises the dedicated bariatric program team at Penrose-St. Francis Health Services. One gym supervisor, King said, was instrumental to her progress.
"Jenna [Florea] was a very important part in my journey and in how far I’ve come. She got me started in the program, helped me design what my diet and my exercise regiments would be and she’s a great cheerleader," King said. "She saw something in me when I didn’t see it; I wouldn’t have made it without her or the rest of the team at Penrose-St. Francis, including Dr. [Scott] Fisher and Fran [Jackson]."
King struggled with her weight as long as she could remember, always feeling like the "bigger girl" because, she said, all her friends were much slimmer than she was. But things really spiraled out of control at the age of 18, when King’s mother died and she turned to food for comfort. Over the next fifty years, King got married, had a daughter, got divorced and never took back the reigns of her weight or her health. "I had no support and no love in my marriage and I just kept eating and gaining weight," King said. "It was a very sad, lonely and unhealthy way to live."
At her job as a case services aide for the El Paso County Department of Human Services, King said just walking across the office floor to go to the copy machine would leave her out of breath. Decades of sedentary living and steady weight gain had amounted to dangerously high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar levels, joint and back pain and low self-esteem.
Then, in 2012, after her daughter had lap band surgery, King was inspired to make a drastic change toward health and a happier life: gastric sleeve surgery. She enlisted the help of Dr. Scott Fisher at Penrose-St. Francis and began the grueling year-long pre-surgery program that consists of meetings with dietitians and doctors, dropping a predetermined amount of weight on her own, attending regular weigh-ins and biometric screenings. On Dec. 3, 2013, King bid farewell to her old life forever and underwent surgery.
That was when the real work began, but King wasn’t alone because Florea, gym supervisor at Penrose-St. Francis, took it upon herself to design a program to work with King’s schedule and what was readily available to support her health and wellness plan. Florea connected with a fitness trainer at the CSC Fitness Center that services El Paso County employees and together they made sure King had support and guidance at every step she took.
"Obesity can be a very isolating condition and when someone has spent a long time being sedentary, it’s scary to 'just go work out,' because they don’t even know where to begin," Florea said. "In the bariatric program, we want to make sure our patients have every resource and tool available so they have every chance to succeed. No one goes through their journey alone."
With Florea’s help at Penrose-St. Francis and the support of her colleagues at work and family and friends at home, King adopted a strict routine that still involves daily weigh-ins, meticulous food diaries where she logs nearly every calorie she consumes and detailed records of her workouts. It may seem a bit extreme to some people, King said, but she wants to keep herself accountable.
"She’s the only bariatric patient who has successfully completed our program," Florea said. "She has inspired me in my job; this is why I love what I do, because I get to meet someone like Sandra, who discovered that she can take control of her health and found her own strength in the process."
Florea wasn’t the only person inspired by King’s dedication and success: in January, the CSC Fitness Center named King its 2014 Healthy Hero, a member-nominated and member-voted award presented every year. The Healthy Hero is awarded to a person who has made a commitment to a healthy lifestyle through their participation in the CSC Fitness Center.
More than two years after beginning her journey, King doesn’t even hesitate when asked if she would do it all over again.
"I am a testament that if you really want something, you have to work hard for it and you will achieve it," King said. "It’s never too late, and you’re never too old. Believe me, if I could do it, anyone can."
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