Each time Ronnie Leber stepped on a scale and saw his weight creeping back up, he knew exactly what to do. The Atkins Diet combined with every other day visits to the gym always seemed to work. A few weeks later, he would weigh himself again, and breathe a sigh of relief that 10 or 15 pounds had come off. But it was a vicious cycle. Soon, those lost pounds were back.
“I didn’t like the person I had become,” says Leber. “I was tired, moody and had no energy. When I did go to the gym, the people working out around me always asked if I was okay because I was breathing so heavily. It was embarrassing and discouraging.”
When his weight peaked at 296 pounds in June 2015, Leber acknowledged it was time to get serious about losing weight; he needed a permanent solution. He put a call into the Bariatric Surgery Center at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center and scheduled an initial consultation with Christopher You, MD. That appointment not only changed, but, most importantly, saved his life.
“Dr. You explained my options and recommended the gastric sleeve procedure because it’s less invasive, typically results in a quicker recovery and would allow a guy like me to lose about 100 pounds,” Leber explains. “The decision to have surgery is a big one, but it felt right. I wanted to make the changes and get my life back.”
In the months leading up to his surgery, Leber attended seven weight management group meetings, met with a dietitian and psychiatrist, and underwent a series of screenings and tests to assure he was ready—physically as well as mentally and emotionally— and he was. Dr. You performed his surgery on Jan. 28, 2016, and within a few weeks, he started to feel like the person he had aspired to be for as long as he could remember.
“As the weight came off, I started to feel like a new person,” he says. “I had energy and wanted to start going out and doing things again instead of just parking on the couch to watch television or football games. I started eating the right portions of the right kinds of foods and going to the gym not because I had to, but because I wanted to.”
Now age 78, Leber walks close to five miles every other day, always with a smile, and often while striking up a conversation with a friend or fellow gym-goer who is beside him on the elliptical machine or treadmill at the gym. The man who was once out of breath as he took a 20 or 30 minute walk is nowhere to be found. When he opens his closet to get dressed, the size 3XL shirts and size 48 pants get pushed a little further toward the back. Instead, his new wardrobe is front and center, consisting of standard size large shirts and size 34 pants. Today, when Leber steps on the scale, the number he sees—179, give or take a pound or two—is one he is proud of. And that isn’t the only number that continues to go down in the Leber household.
“We are saving close to $400 per month, because we are spending much less each time we go to the grocery store,” says Pat Leber, who is also making wiser nutritional choices these days in support of her husband’s lifestyle changes. “We are eating smaller portions and are no longer loading up on sweets the way we used to. Now, it’s all about protein, fruits and veggies.”
Dr. You, a board-certified bariatric and general surgeon and one of Baltimore magazine’s Top Docs, also serves as co-director of the robotic surgery program at MedStar Franklin Square. He notes that Leber’s success exemplifies why age should not be a barrier for people who are considering surgical weight loss.
“Ronnie is in his late 70s, but he had a lot of medical issues that could be resolved through surgery. He made a commitment to make positive changes and now he can look forward to a longer, better and happier life,” says Dr. You.
He explains that many misperceptions still exist about bariatric surgery and the impact it will have on life and, specifically, meal time, for those who love food. Dr. You and his team work hard every day to educate prospective patients so that the best possible personal health decisions can be made.
“Some people think that if they have the surgery they will never again be able to enjoy the foods they love,” Dr. You says. “After surgery, most people can tolerate almost every kind of food—eventually. The key is to incorporate foods back into your diet gradually, with portion control being a key priority. You will never be able to sit down and eat half of a pizza again in one sitting, but you can certainly have a slice. The difference is that after surgery, most people find that one slice is completely satisfying and filling.”
Leber can attest to Dr. You’s statement. While he is no longer taking in quite as many poached eggs with bacon for breakfast, chicken nuggets for lunch or steak and potatoes for dinner, he is still enjoying meal time, every day. He’s even acquired a taste for healthier foods that he once didn’t like.
“I haven’t had to completely cut out the foods I enjoy,” he says. “I am just eating much smaller portions, and I am feeling and looking better because of it.”
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