Friday, January 8, 2010

Gastric bypass was route to a new life for Sheriff

Milwaukee, WI
A little more than a year has passed since I grazed with John Schroeder at a Christmas party buffet table.

At 375 pounds, John knew this territory well - sandwiches, chips, rich dips, shrimp, desserts. But all that was about to change.

John, a friend of some friends of mine, told me he was having his stomach stapled a few days later. You know, bariatric surgery. The ol' gastric bypass.

His stomach would be reduced from about the size of a football, overinflated in his case, to the size of an egg. I wondered how a guy who clearly lived to eat would possibly manage portions to fit a space that small.

Well, I ran into John at the same party this Christmas and hardly recognized him. He had shed enough pounds, about 130, to build an average-size teenager.

"I'm still heading down," said the 41-year-old Wauwatosan. The married father of two is a Milwaukee County sheriff's deputy assigned to the jail.

His goal is to drop 20 more pounds and settle at 225. After falling off at two to three pounds a week, the weight lately has resisted disappearing a bit more.

You hear so much about how fat America has become, and it has. John Schroeder doesn't want to play that role anymore. This might be your New Year's resolution, too. Again.

A couple years ago, he tried out for TV's "The Biggest Loser," which has turned weight loss into a spectator sport. He got a callback but ultimately was passed over.

He seemed to have the right stuff for the show. John of buffet tables past was always hungry.

"I fit the old mode, I guess, the doughnut shop and that type of thing," he said.

Two hours before dinner, he'd stop at a fast-food drive-through for two big burgers. When the wind was right, he could smell the nearby pizza restaurant and bakery from his backyard spa.

"That would basically put me into a trance. I'd walk out of the hot tub and down the street in my swim shorts and unfortunately end up in the store buying pizza," he said.

Ice cream seemed to call out his name. His daily calorie intake? He had stopped counting. Never a small guy, he watched his weight go north of 300 and stay there.

He once was refused entry to a Disney World ride with his kids because he was too heavy. Airplane seats were brutal. His knees and feet hurt from holding him up. He was reinforcing his buttons with fishing line. The final straw was when he re-injured an old ankle injury from his football-playing days while chasing down a criminal.

John found his way to Craig Siverhus, a general/bariatric surgeon at Columbia St Mary's. In December of 2008, after extensive consultations and even psychological testing, Siverhus performed what's known as Roux-en-Y surgery on John, a common form of gastric bypass first done in the 1960s in the United States.

A small part of the stomach is cut away and stapled to form a pouch to accept food. The rest of the stomach and duodenum are bypassed to limit absorption, and the small intestine is surgically attached to the pouch, Siverhus explained.

The procedure usually results in the loss of 70% to 80% of a person's excess body weight, most of it in the first six months. There are risks. A tiny percentage of patients die. Ulcers and gallstones can appear. Eating sugary foods, pasta, bread or simply too much can make you sick. But Siverhus said the surgery often greatly reduces a patient's risk from high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes and sleep apnea.

The surgery can run $25,000 to $30,000. Insurance doesn't always cover it. Luckily for John, his did.

"John was a great candidate. He was very well informed, he was very well motivated to proceed with this, and he was willing to make lifestyle changes that would allow him to succeed with it," the doctor said.

John's wife, Kate, said people sometimes call this weight loss route a quick fix, but she has seen how radically John has changed his habits. Under stress, he might still hit the fridge, but now it's for yogurt rather than a hot dog with all the fixins.

John said Kate occasionally has to remind him to eat. His eyes are still sometimes bigger than his stomach, which isn't saying much. He'll fill a bowl with chili but eat only a small amount. He learned a painful lesson from a Reuben sandwich he chanced on St. Patrick's Day.

Kate said her husband has lost his desire to eat out, but some restaurants will charge him for a child's meal when he flashes his bariatric surgery membership card.

She'd love to lose 30 pounds herself, using traditional dieting, Kate said. People are always telling John how fabulous he looks now. The family bought bikes and plans more trips to the gym this year. Fewer frozen pizzas are on the horizon.

John has spent lots of money on new clothes and work uniforms as the pounds fell off. It's a nice problem to have. His waistline is down to nearly 36 after peaking at 52.

In December, for the first time, all four Schroeders appeared in the family Christmas card. John, who used to hate cameras and mirrors, finally wanted to be included. Recently, John noticed his clavicle peeking out from what had been excess fat, and he had to look online to see what it was.

For John, eating now means a few ounces at a sitting, about a third of a kid's meal or part of a Lean Cuisine dinner. He eats small pieces of fruit, nuts and veggies, and everything has to be chewed to death. It's crucial to drink enough water, but just sips at a time. He has so much more energy, despite eating so little.

What about beer?

"You're not supposed to," he said. "But I'm from Milwaukee so, yes, I'll sneak one in periodically."
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