Skinny Daily Post

Invincible.

(Ed note: New News on Medicare defining Obesity as an illness and covering care. A VBD folks.
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Quite awhile ago I wrote a column about coping with loose skin after weight loss. It was a general piece about why and how our skin loosens, who is likely to experience it, what we can do about it, what works and what doesn’t. The upshot is, if you’re left with lots of loose skin more than a year after undergoing a massive weight loss, surgery is your only real option for removing it. It’s not an easy choice, to snip or not to snip. It’s costly, it’s painful, it’s time consuming. It’s a tradeoff, the skin for a few scars. For many people, the tradeoff is well worth the results.

What I hoped to find is Sally, one woman who has been through a massive weight loss (150 lbs.), and a surgery (body lift procedures) so that she could give us more information about the process and the experience of the surgery itself. Sally has been documenting her weight loss and surgery story with the help of documentary photographers and filmmakers, and bravely and kindly offered her help here. Here’s Sally on her surgery:

“On December 22, 2003, I embarked on one of the most exciting and scary ventures I ever faced in my life. I entered Magee Women’s Hospital in Pittsburgh to have a lower body lift, abdominoplasty, and inner thigh lift.

“Having undergone weight loss surgery a year and a half earlier should have made this old hat, but this was a more difficult decision. The first surgery was to save my life. Now, 150 pounds lighter, healthy, with a fun, active life, it seemed I was putting more at risk. But I also felt all the hard work and effort I was putting in at the gym and at the table (I will always need to make responsible food choices) was not reflected in my body. I was smaller but still wearing my fat skin, like wearing my old size 26W clothing on my size 8 frame.

“I chose plastic surgery on my lower body because excessive skin on my belly caused recurrent infections in my navel. My insurance company approved payment for removal of the belly skin for this reason, but any other procedures had to come out of my own pocket.

“The surgeon, Dr. Peter Rubin, spent a lot of time talking with me about what bothered me and what I would like to change. He lifted and pulled my skin to show me results I might expect from various procedures. I got excited at the prospect of having thighs that didn’t rub together for the first time in my life! The most difficult part of the appointment was having a 360-degree set of pictures taken of my saggy, naked body for reference. I set a date.

“The morning of my surgery, Dr. Rubin came in and spent a lot of time drawing lines all over my belly, hips, butt and thighs. When he finished, it was time to go to the operating room. I remember nothing after that until I woke up in recovery.

“I won’t lie to you, it is painful. And I think the more you have done at once, the more pain you experience. I felt as though I had been hit by a truck. I had a reaction to the anesthesia as well, which caused me to be nauseated and the room to spin for the first several hours. The first few days in the hospital were very rough for me, requiring a transfusion of two units of blood. But I could already tell, in spite of the swelling and swaths of bandages and elastic binding garments, that things looked better.

“I had literally several feet of incisions on my body. One incision ran around my body at bikini-line level. Two more started at that line, and ran in the crease where thigh meets groin and around the back under my buttocks. Long incisions ran down each inner thigh, ending just below the knees. There were six temporary JP drains installed. These are suction drains that help remove excess fluids from the surgery areas, three on each side. They need to be emptied carefully during the first few days after surgery.

“I walked much like a bent, old woman at first, with a slow, bowlegged gait. Getting up and down from a seated to a standing or a prone position was difficult the first couple of weeks. Having a riser on the toilet and someone to assist me in and out of bed was very helpful. I needed many bolster pillows to be comfortable in bed. As the swelling decreased, I was able to begin to straighten up a bit and move a bit more easily. As drains were removed, four the first week, the remaining two the second week, I was able to move more freely.

“Doing many procedures at once has its pluses and its minuses. The positive aspect is that you only have to go through one surgery and it can save quite a bit of money. The downside is that recovery typically takes longer, can be more painful, and has an increased risk of complications.

“Six months later, I can see the true results. I don’t look like a supermodel, but I do look like the best me possible. My thighs are taught and smooth, I can see the stomach muscles I worked so hard on, and my butt is back up where it belongs. I went from a 33-inch to a 29-inch waist, and lost 6 inches off of my hips and 3.5 off each thigh. I went from a size 10/12 to a 6/8. A whole new wardrobe again. Poor me.

“Because I am so happy with my results, in spite of the pain and recovery, I do plan to take care of my upper body in the future. In the meantime, I can be found lounging poolside in my bikini, the first one I’ve ever owned!

Sally’s weight loss is documented on her website, reconfigured.net, and through materials she’s created with documentary photographers at Carnegie Mellon University. The collected works have been exhibited at Carnegie and will eventually be gathered into a book about Sally’s experience. Here are just three of the photographs by Charlee Brodsky:

Sally1.jpg

Sally2.jpg

Sally3.jpg

And more on the matter:

Sally’s Documentary Site

Sally in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

8 thoughts on “Getting Rid of the Fat Suit

  1. JuJu says:

    The moderator from the 3 Fat Chicks Maintainers Forum wrote in to say they’ve got a big FAQ and thread on loose skin after weight loss on their board. It’s chock full of information and help from people like Sally who have been there, done that.

    Here’s what Meg-the-moderator, who lost half of herself quite awhile ago and has been through the surgery, has to say about the forum:

    “As for the Maintainers Forum — it’s a place for anyone who’s at goal or close to it and who’s thinking about what it’s going to take to keep the weight off for the rest of his or her life. All the focus in the weight loss world seems to be on getting the weight off. Well, that’s the first step, of course, but OK, that took me a year. What about the rest of my life? I plan to keep the weight off for many, many more years, yet where’s the info and support about maintenance? That’s why 3FC set up the Maintainers Forum — to give us a place to get together and talk about all the issues we deal with in keeping the weight off. All are welcome — please check us out!k

    Go to: http://www.3fatchicks.com/forum
    Scroll down the page to Maintainers Forum

    J.

  2. jonquil says:

    Juju, I’d like to see more info on the total costs of these surgeries. Sally says she has spent $9000 dollars so far, and insurance covered the rest. Presumably that doesn’t cover time off work, home care, or possible transportation and child care costs. And she says she plans on further surgery to correct loose skin problems on the arms, etc.

    Just casually adding this stuff up, and taking a guess at the real totals, it sounds like a complete cleanup of loose skin might cost $15,000 – $20,000 or more. And that’s assuming no complications requiring further surgeries.

    I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but we’re talking about substantial sums, and possibly, a load of debt that could take a decade or more to work off. For many, the results might be well worth it, but it bothers me that the money aspect is seldom discussed in detail.

  3. Debbie says:

    Re the costs: And that’s assuming your insurance will cover part of it, most insurance won’t unless there’s a health issue involved (like Sally’s infections). I’ve heard estimates as high as $40,000.

  4. JuJu says:

    Hi Jonquil and Debbie.

    The 3 Fat Chicks site has a FAQ posted that includes pricing suggested by an associationo or academy of plastic surgeons. It lists costs for individual procedures. The costs can be lowered when multiple surgeries are included.

    But the upshot is, yes it’s expensive, yes it entails lost time from work, yes it is disruptive to life and work responsibilities. And each of us needs to weigh all of that against our frustration and pain of having the extra skin.

    I love lycra.

  5. Susan says:

    I am thrilled that I chose to have two cosmetic procedures following a 120 lb. weight loss over nearly 7 years. I had a lot of redundant skin(5-6 pounds!), which made it difficult to feel “successful” with my loss. It is very hard to “see” and “feel” your new, thinner body when you have hanging skin all over…and for me, the kicker was when all the flesh on my belly would jiggle and move when I would shake the saute pan on the stovetop.

    I had an extended abdominoplasty (nearly a body lift)in June 2002, and a mastopexy in January 2003. I am pleased with it, and like how my body looks and feels…it is SO MUCH BETTER with and without clothes. I paid cash, a total of about $10K. (Price does very depending on your locale.) I had almost no pain with either procedure, healed quickly and think my surgeon is fantastic.

    I would highly recommend pursuing cosmetic procedures to anyone who has lost large amounts of weight and has excessive amounts of skin as a result. For me, it was well worth the financial cost. In fact, even though I have moved 400 miles away from my surgeon, I am considering one more procedure with him.

  6. Auschick says:

    Woah! Sounds like prevention is better than cure. (No offense meant)

  7. Barb says:

    Thank you for providing this info, Juju. While I am still in the process of losing the weight, the tummy tuck was something I’d been considering in the future. I have no desire to wear a bikini, but know my abdomen is ruined by the weight I’ve carried, plus two pregnancies! The cost is a major factor, but I would mostly look at the risks of surgery against the gains. I also have yet to see if I might have the problems that Sally had with skin infections prior to surgery (her before pics look alot like me). Barring problems like that, I think I may in the Lycra wearing category too!

  8. laurie says:

    I belong to 3Fat Chicks and love the forums…they are inspiring and amazing!

    I am considering a lift of some sort to be a part of my future…though I’ve only lost 60+ pounds so far, I can see my stomach is starting to look like Sally’s first picture above.

    My concern is that I have not had children yet, and am hoping to start as soon as I have lost this weight. I assume that I need to wait until I have had my kids before doing the procedures–but would that only make the skin worse? Hmmm….

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