Becoming a "Brand New Man" after weight loss surgery

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"Why me Lord?
What have I ever done?
To deserve even one of the pleasures I've known"

-Kris Kristofferson

I am ecstatic. I've lost over 100 pounds in six and a half months past my gastric sleeve weight loss surgery. I did weigh 377.7 pounds and was probably higher than that. (I stopped weighing myself at some point.) Now I weigh 275 pounds and dropping more every week. I used to have diabetes and a host of other illnesses. I don't now. I've never felt better in my 56 years on the earth.

Some of my heroes are Martin Luther King, Elvis, my father, Jim Valvano, Amy Winehouse, Steve Jobs and John F. Kennedy. They did not make it as long, or much longer, than I have. I've been able to turn around a lifetime of poor eating, bad obesity genetics and indifference to physical activity and get a second chance at life.

A chance my heroes never got.

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My book about the experience: Brand New Man: My Journey to Health and Happiness After Weight Loss Surgery is coming out November 9. I approached the weight loss process like a detailed business plan and executed it with focus and precision. I'm going to share my story and research in a frank and candid manner.

The "Why Me Lord" question does not consume me, but it comes up. I've spent a lifetime helping injured people handle their money and come to the conclusion that bad things happen to good people for no particular reason and the inverse is true. A good person will die in a car wreck while the drunk that hit them walks away without a scratch. I count on God and the justice system to balance it all out someday.

I'm not sure why I got the second chance and others did not, but I am going to make the best of the opportunity given to me.

"Life's been good to me so far"
-Joe Walsh

I stay keenly aware of survivor's guilt in my clients. There is a concept called "blood money" where a person who receives money from a death or an accident tries to blow it as fast as possible. Deep in their minds, they think that life will be "back to normal" if their money is all gone.

It doesn't work that way.

With injured people, many lose a loved one and then lose their money as well. A double tragedy that I witness too often.

In the weight loss world, many of us who have been fat all our lives start to think that things can never change. I've been fortunate to have good things happen in the professional and social parts of life. I have patterns of success to draw on.

I truly believe that I can do anything that I set my mind to doing.

Obesity was messing with my "you can do anything you set your mind to" theory. On weight loss, I felt like Sisyphus from Greek mythology, who was punished by the gods by pushing a boulder up a hill each day and then having the boulder roll back down. Forever.

I tried everything. I was the Amy Winehouse of weight loss rehab programs and went through one medically supervised program six different times. I was never going to stop trying. I have a fierce sense of focus and determination that I developed early in life.

In order to break out of my Sisyphus imitation, I had to go face to face with my deepest fear: Surgery.

Surgery was the only answer.

I was always terrified of surgery until I had to have emergency surgery in 2011. Living through that reduced my resistance, but weight loss surgery was still a no-no in my world. I've worked with the families of numerous people who died during weight loss surgery.

I finally reached a point where I recognized that I could take a chance on dying quickly or die slightly less quickly from the boatload of obesity related problems on the horizon.

There's a point where all of the assets you build up over a lifetime come into play. I had friends, resources and the ability to research every aspect and person in my weight loss surgery process.

Once I made up my mind to have surgery, I was in a position to find a way to make it happen.

Even though any weight over the BMI measurement of 40 is considered morbidly obese (morbid means you are going to die from it) and my BMI was 52 (which means you are really going to die quickly from it), Anthem, my longtime insurance carrier, would not pay for weight loss surgery. Nor would any other insurer licensed in Kentucky.

Not only does my policy not pay for surgery, Anthem will not pay for any COMPLICATIONS from surgery. I paid for the weight loss surgery out of my own pocket, but if I had a heart attack or infection and ran a bill of hundreds of thousands of dollars, I thought I would be on the hook for that too.

By accident or divine providence, I found out about a company named BLIS, which allows patients like myself to purchase insurance in case something goes wrong during surgery.

I interviewed BLIS founder Regi Schindler several times before I wrote about BLIS and purchased the insurance myself. He compared the coverage to purchasing a warranty on a car. I compared it to buying collision coverage on a rental car. Either way, it worked out well for both of us.

Because of BLIS, I was able to get the gastric sleeve surgery and since I flew through the operation without the slightest complication, the transaction was all profit on the BLIS front. And it turned me into an outspoken advocate for what BLIS does.

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"Loneliness can get you down
When you get to thinking no one cares"

-Paul Anka

Obese people are a group that society can discriminate against with impunity. A staple of many television newscasts, usually anchored by a former beauty pageant winner or former star athlete, is to show video clips of the buttocks of unsuspecting obese people as they walk down the street.

The message from the clips is "let's make fun of the fat people." They know the fat people are not going to fight back, and this experienced journalist knows that picking on someone is good for ratings.

Fat people take that mental beating throughout their lives.

Fat people are never the popular kids. Even though obesity is usually a product of genetics, income and environment, it is often foisted on obese people that it is their lack of willpower and self-discipline causing the obesity.

I inherited my obesity from obese family members. I also inherited my height, high IQ, blue eyes and male pattern baldness. It's all part of the package. I'm a man with a very strong will and my history in other life endeavors proves it. Once I understood that willpower had nothing to do with weight loss, surgery became a logical option. A medical solution to a medical problem.

I was lucky that my parents taught me a tremendous sense of self-confidence and were great role models on how to interact with people. I've always been blessed with a loyal and wide circle of friends, but I have the empathy for outsiders that comes with being one myself.

I have gotten by with the help of my friends. And family. I see a lot of people battle their loved ones when they try a weight loss program or life change. Mine have been with me 110 percent.

I'm dedicating my book to the three doctors, Dr. Derek Weiss, Dr. Phil Hoffman and Dr. Jim Roach, who were instrumental in making it happen. Phil and Jim were friends and Derek has become one since helping me through this experience. In an era where health care is becoming depersonalized and bureaucratic, I have three doctors who truly and deeply care. I'm very fortunate.

Why Me Lord?

"And we can build this dream together
Standing strong forever
Nothing's gonna stop us now"

-Starship

Going from 377 pounds to 275 pounds is a miracle. I'm on the road to a place I've never been before and should lose 50 or 75 pounds more in the next year.

All of my habits have changed.

I went from barely moving to frequently walking over 10 miles a day. I came in second in my age category (50 and over) in a 3K run. I don't drink alcohol, soft drinks or anything carbonated, and I rarely hit a fast food place.

I threw away my diabetes medicine two days after surgery and my blood sugar has been perfect. Little things rarely stress me and everything stressed me pre-surgery. I have fun and my work productivity has skyrocketed as I don't get tired as easily.

I can fly coach and fly with a normal seatbelt. I can fit in movie theater seats. I can walk in any clothing store and find apparel my size.

I'm reducing my blood pressure medicine and on the road to ditching my CPAP, which has been a constant companion for 20 years.

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Weight Loss Surgery and Diabetes

"Candy, candy, candy I can't let you go
All my life you're haunting me"

-Iggy Pop

What finally made the quest for weight loss surgery happen was when I got real about my blood sugar.

I was diabetic, or at least on the border, trying to control my weight with a nearly zero carb diet, taking different and expensive types of medicines. Insulin, then cutting off my limbs, then an early death were next on my horizon.

I was also hell to be around. And had no idea. My temper would go in and out of control for no particular reason. One of the most common comments people say when they see me lately is how much happier I seem. I never knew I projected an aura of unhappiness, but obviously I did.

That seems to be behind me. Two days after my December 1 surgery, even before I started losing weight, my blood sugar went to normal and has stayed there ever since. I threw away the medicine on December 3.

Many of you know your AIC rating for blood sugar. Mine was 7.8 before the surgery. Now it is 5.1, which is in the normal range and I don't take any medicines.

I would have been happy to have the surgery just to get the blood sugar under control. Losing over 100 pounds has been a bonus.

"Try me Lord if you think there's a way
I can try to repay all I've taken from you
Maybe Lord I can show someone else
What I've been through myself"

-Kris Kristofferson

Some of the answer to the "Why Me Lord" question has been hitting me over the head since the process started.

The full story is in a book review I wrote in Huffington Post on April 25, 2015 entitled, "Does God Make House Calls?"

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On July 15 of last year, I wrote an email to Dr. Jim Roach at 4:08 a.m. He was a doctor I had not seen in four years. I asked him to help me find a way to have weight loss surgery. In the back and forth, Dr. Jim mentioned he was writing a book on spirituality and near death experiences.

I am the primary owner of RRP International Publishing and immediately offered him a book deal. I got the surgery and also got to be the publisher of a best-selling book. Along the way, I learned a lot about spirituality and gratitude.

My call is not about survivor's guilt, it is about giving back.

I went into the weight loss surgery process knowing I would write about it. I already have a high profile from my other writing and media appearances and no qualms about sharing my most intimate details with the free world.

Some people keep their weight loss surgery a secret. Not me. I want to help others be able to do what I have done. Which is get a second chance at really living.

I thought I would just write about it and let others find their path to the health. Now I am becoming more of an activist. Health insurance should pay for weight loss surgery for all Americans and make it easier to qualify. It is more of an upfront cost for the insurer, but the long-term savings are dramatic. My insurer hit the jackpot as I paid for my own surgery, but dropped medicines that cost the insurer hundreds of dollars each month.

Impacting legislation and telling my story are activities on a global basis, but life really happens one to one. I've had several friends get interested in the surgery and I helped them start the process.

My first appearance in public after my surgery was the January swearing in of Kentucky Court of Appeals Justice Debra Lambert. My company did the website and helped her with social media in her successful campaign.

David Gambrel is an elected official in Lincoln County, Kentucky and a friend from when I was in college at Eastern Kentucky University. He was part of Justice Lambert's ceremony. David noticed my weight loss and I told him about the surgery. We went back and forth via email and messaged about it. Like other weight loss patients have done for me, I have been there to answer his questions and guide him through the process.

Last week, David had the same surgery, using the same surgeon that I used. I was in Chicago, but texted with his wife literally day and night through the next two days, as I walked him through the same walk that I had done.

He is at home from the hospital and seems to be doing well. He sent me a text giving me his permission to write about him and that we have a responsibility to help others.

Yes we do.

In about seven or eight months, I want do a story about how David has lost 100 pounds, like I did.

Why me Lord?

I suspect it is because I have the forum, attitude and motivation to make my weight loss journey the playbook for many other people's journeys in the future.

So far, my playbook is one for one. And I am 100 pounds lighter.

I have a lot to be thankful for. And a lot of giving back to do.

Don McNay, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, CSSC of Lexington, Kentucky is the Chairman of McNay Financial, a former syndicated columnist and a best-selling author. You can learn more about him at www.donmcnay.com

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