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Experience

Life After Bariatric Surgery

By Jessica Sharkey
Growing up in New Jersey, Jessica Sharkey always struggled with her weight. She couldn’t understand why. Her parents, brother, and twin sister maintained healthy weights, yet Sharkey—who played sports and tried to eat right—packed on the pounds. High school was an awful experience, and she dreaded clothes shopping. Diets simply didn’t work, she says, and at age 30, weighing more than 280 pounds with a BMI that classified her as morbidly obese, she decided to undergo bariatric surgery. Sharkey—now an environmental epidemiologist for the Army—believed the procedure was her last hope.

My worst day

I felt helpless. I tried everything: diets, even acupuncture. Nothing worked for long. I would just gain and gain. I dreaded going to doctors and stepping on a scale. I thought, I work in the public health field; I need to walk the walk.

What I did to get better

I contacted surgeon Anne Lidor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Bariatric Surgery. She suggested a vertical sleeve gastrectomy procedure. Basically, I would have a large portion of my stomach removed, and it would restrict how much I could eat. A week before the surgery in early 2013, I still had doubts. Is this the right thing to do? What if this doesn’t work? In the end, I knew I had to get this done, but it was the hardest decision I ever made. After the surgery, I worked with a nutritional consultant to adjust my diet and my lifestyle. More fresh foods. Smaller meals. More exercise. I started with a Couch to 5K program. I didn’t take the easy way out. I had to work.

Me now

My recovery time was quick. I was back to work in three weeks. Overall, I feel great. I don’t worry about a seatbelt not fitting anymore, and for the first time I enjoy clothes shopping. I can even try on my sister’s clothes. My sister and I ran a half marathon a year after my surgery. Nine months later, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon. I weighed 175 pounds on race day. I was later diagnosed with stress fractures in my right foot, but I plan to continue running half marathons and I’m now toying with the idea of a triathlon. I like having a goal to strive for.

illustration of jeans that need to be made smaller
Illustration by Karolis Strautniekas

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