That’s it, Phill Carr thought. It’s time. Time to get rid of this weight.

The moment of realization came when Carr realized he could no longer tie his own shoelaces or even put on his own socks. He had to call his wife or his daughter to help.

At age 44, the Saugatuck, Michigan, resident weighed in at 408 pounds. The joints on his 6-foot-1 frame ached with arthritis from the excess weight. He had trouble sleeping.

After operating a lawn care business in the Saugatuck area for the past 10 years, the work had finally grown almost too hard to tackle.

He’d tire easily.

He found himself turning away new accounts.

It all just seemed like too much effort.

“My doctor suggested bariatric surgery,” Carr said. “I had a cousin who had had it. I thought it was a good idea. A week later, I got a call from Spectrum Health bariatrics and I was scheduled for a consult.”

When Carr learned what bariatric surgery involved, he jumped right in.

But first doctors told him he had to diet a few months prior to surgery.

“I was told to keep to 1,200 calories daily, with 60 to 80 grams of that to be protein,” Carr said. “I had to increase my water intake—a lot. That was the hardest part to do, to drink so much water.”

Changing old habits

Carr usually skipped breakfast, but not anymore. He had to eat regular meals. He had to learn healthier eating habits.

“I used to be able to eat a whole pizza by myself,” he said. “Or I’d order a couple of burgers with 10 nuggets and a big pop at McDonald’s. I could eat four orders of biscuits and gravy. And I would eat late at night, drink a pop before bed. My portion sizes were crazy.”

Carr soon met with James Foote, MD, FACS, a bariatric surgeon at Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital.

Dr. Foote said that by dieting prior to surgery, patients show they can adhere to a calorie-restricted lifestyle. It also helps shrink the liver before surgery.

“The liver stores the fats and sugars in our diet,” Dr. Foote said. “We want the liver to retract prior to surgery so that we have room to reach around it.”

Carr would undergo a sleeve gastrectomy—an hour-long laparoscopic procedure to reduce the size of the stomach.

“It involves five small incisions,” Dr. Foote said. “Two incisions are for my hands, one for the laparoscopic camera, one for my assistant, one to get around the liver to remove a portion of the stomach. Of all bariatric surgeries, I prefer this for my patients—they lose similar weight to other types of surgeries and recovery is quick.”

First step to a new you

Zeeland Community Hospital scheduled Carr’s surgery for May 30.

“I was in the hospital for just one day,” Carr said. “The next morning I was up and walking and a week later I was back at work.”

The results were almost immediate.

Weight seemed to melt off his frame.

“My personal goal was to reach 240 pounds,” he said. “I had always been a big kid, 250 pounds by ninth grade. By my senior year, although I played football all through high school, I weighed 300 pounds.

“When I met my wife, Miranda, 13 years ago, I weighed 340 pounds,” he said. “And after that, the weight just kept adding on. But now I’ve already surpassed my goal.”

Initially, Carr said he couldn’t eat more than 600 to 800 calories a day, but gradually he got to where he could eat 1,200 calories a day.

He worked out at the gym three to five days a week and took up a new sport.

“I started playing golf,” he said. “Now I play all the time. And my weight is down to 222 pounds.”

He’ll meet with his doctor five times in the coming year, as well as meeting with a dietitian on each of those visits.

“It’s not so much that I’ve changed what I eat,” he admitted. “It’s the portion size. I still like the taste of a Coke, but I’ll have a couple sips and then dump the rest. I have a protein shake for breakfast. I count calories and I have a multi-vitamin every day.”

“We recommend to our patients to stop drinking sugary drinks and eating processed foods,” Dr. Foote said. “It’s that typical kind of American diet that has made people obese. Even with bariatric surgery, it’s possible to regain the weight.”

Nothing to fear

Once someone has a body mass index greater than 35—overweight by 50 to 60 pounds—it’s nearly impossible to lose that weight without surgical help, Dr. Foote said.

“The body hits a set point and doesn’t want to lose it,” he said. “It’s important to not gain the weight in the first place. But recent years of statistics in Michigan show that about 77,000 people in the greater Grand Rapids area would qualify for bariatric surgery.”

Despite the rise in obesity, Dr. Foote said few people seek out bariatric surgery—and that’s unfortunate.

“Surgery sounds scary to people, but this kind of surgery is very safe, as safe as repairing a hernia or removing a gall bladder,” he said. “The health benefits are great and most insurance plans cover it.”

Carr said he’d do the surgery again “in a heartbeat.”

“It’s life-changing,” Carr said. “I’m so energized now. I’ve picked up new business at work because now I can handle it.

“People who haven’t seen me in a while sometimes don’t even recognize me anymore. I’ll go up to old friends to say hello and they’ll say, ‘Who are you again?’”