No more blood pressure pills, less pain after weight loss surgery

KelleeKellee Smith didn’t have a history of struggling with weight. She still has the size 2 gown she wore in a Miss Maryland pageant when she was 110 pounds.

But the weight started creeping on after a drunk driver in a large pickup truck slammed into her small car five years ago, shattering her shoulder, detaching her knee cap, severing the tendons in her leg and leaving her with a traumatic brain injury. It took two surgeries and about 18 months of rehabilitative therapy to start rebuilding her life.

She gained weight, in part from the reduced activity, in part as a side effect from the medications she was taking and in part as a result of turning to food as a comfort from the pain and physical limitations.

When her blood pressure medication would no longer control her blood pressure, though, she knew she had to make a change.

“I just wanted to be healthier. I didn’t want to worry about having a cardiac event or having to take more and more medication,” said Smith, a 45-year-old teacher.

Smith had gastric sleeve surgery in summer 2017.

One of the important tools for Smith was a food journal. Surprised to see how much soda she had been drinking, she switched to flavored seltzer water and eventually just switched to water.

Other changes: She adds a low-carb protein shake to iced coffee, giving her the creaminess of a frappucino without the extra sugar and calories. She turns sandwiches into lettuce wraps to eliminate the bread. She’s made spaghetti out of zucchini strings.

“I’m just a lot more conscious about labels and what I’m eating now,” she said. “I can still have the treats that I want, but I just look for ways to make them a healthier alternative.”

Smith said her surgeon told her not to be surprised if it was hard to make some of the transitions in the beginning, and at one point might wonder why she had decided to do it in the first place.

“I have not once asked why I did this,” Smith said. “I had tried diets and even diet medications. I had gone to gyms. I even had a personal trainer. Nothing was helping me lose the weight and I had really just resigned myself that this was how life was going to be for the rest of my life.”

Instead, six months in, Smith has lost 55 pounds in a safe, steady way. Initially at a size 18/20 pants, she bought herself a pair of size 12 jeans over the Christmas holidays. She’s doing strengthening classes at the gym. Between that conditioning and carrying less weight, she’s experiencing less pain and her balance is steadier than it had been in years.

Importantly, in October, she stopped taking blood pressure medication altogether because she no longer has hypertension.

And she’s strongly considering entering a pageant in fall 2018 to share her accomplishments.

“Weight loss surgery isn’t an easy way out or a cure all, but it is a tool,” Smith said. “Every day, it’s a new commitment. Every day, I choose if I’m going to live an active life and make healthy choices.”

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