When Paul Amond’s mother died in 2018, he reached his breaking point.
As Paul watched his mom’s five-year struggle with dementia, he became increasingly depressed. He was also battling physical health issues, including crippling back pain and morbid obesity. He gained more than 100 pounds during his mom’s illness alone.
By the end of 2018, Paul weighed about 380 pounds and was stuck in a vicious cycle. He was in so much pain, he could hardly work, much less stay active.
“I went through treatments and cortisone shots and just kept gaining weight,” he says.
Eventually, Paul reached 410 pounds, and the shots stopped helping with his pain. He met with his back surgeon, who told Paul he would need to lose 100 pounds before he could have surgery. The surgeon recommended he consider bariatric surgery.
Paul thought about it for a few weeks and in June 2019 had his first meeting with the ThedaCare Bariatrics team. The experience led him to find his resolve.
“I just decided then, I don’t want to live like this. My back was so bad, I couldn’t work. I couldn’t bend over to brush my teeth or bathe. Everything hurt, no matter what I did,” he says.
And with that Paul’s metamorphosis began. His insurance required him to complete six months of meetings with dietitians and counselors before he could have weight loss surgery. During that time period alone, he lost 100 pounds.
Paul opted to have Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery. In the procedure, the surgeon creates a small pouch from the stomach and connects it directly to the small intestine. It promotes weight loss by restricting the amount of food a person can eat.
When the day of his surgery arrived in January 2020, Paul, now 49, was ready.
“I wasn’t too worried about it,” he says. “I was at the end road of either I do something about this or I’m going to die in my late 40s or 50s the way I’m going.”
A New Beginning
Reflecting on his journey, Paul says the surgery itself was one of the easiest parts. He had a few minor discomforts afterward but didn’t need any pain medication beyond acetaminophen. He also had to follow a liquid diet for a week following the procedure.
The surgery helped resolve many of his other health issues, including hyperlipemia, type 2 diabetes, acid reflux and high blood pressure.
When Paul got down to 250 pounds five months later, he was ready for his back surgery. The seven-hour procedure in May 2020 proved painful and difficult. Still, he says the good habits he developed following his bariatric surgery helped him through the experience, and he was up and walking the day after his procedure.
Just five weeks later, Paul decided to try something new. He walked his first-ever race — the Fox Firecracker 5K in Kaukauna. From there, he participated in several more walking events that summer.
By that fall, Paul started running — and he hasn’t stopped. In November 2020, he ran his first half marathon and has gone on to complete many additional races, including a half marathon in Las Vegas and a 20K race in Madison.
“It gets your adrenaline flowing. It’s fun,” Paul says of running. “Preparing is tough, but it’s so satisfying when you’re out there running with other people. You get to share your story with them.”
Dr. Raymond Georgen, who co-leads the ThedaCare Bariatrics program and performed Paul’s surgery, says the healthy habits Paul has adopted have helped accelerate his weight loss.
“Paul definitely was one of our patients who embraced what he needed to do and continues to show how successful you can be,” he says.
Weight loss surgery is no easy solution. In fact, keeping weight off for the long term takes a lifelong commitment. Paul has stayed true to that, even through adversity.
In June of 2022, he had skin removal surgery that was painful and led to complications. In addition, unlike most surgeries where getting up and moving is part of the recovery process, this procedure required Paul to rest for two months afterward.
He had established a routine around eating and exercise, and the setback proved challenging. When he had to give up activity, his weight began to creep back up.
Now several months out from his latest surgery, Paul is back to his habits of careful meal planning and walking three times per day — 30 minutes after every meal. He’s also proud to say he’s returned to running races at his usual 10-minute-per-mile pace.
Paul, who now weighs around 235 pounds, has found such great success that he chose to become a patient champion for the ThedaCare Bariatrics program. Patient champions help others along their weight loss journey and lend a hand in support groups.
He says taking on the patient champion role not only assists others but also helps him hold himself accountable. “I can’t show up to meetings and tell them to do this stuff if I’m not doing it. I need to be a role model first,” he says.
Brooke Schmidt, a nurse and care manager with the ThedaCare Bariatrics program, says Paul serves as a shining example for others.
“I would say to other patients who are watching this, be inspired by Paul. He’s living a healthier, more active life, and he has years to come of doing activities he enjoys,” she says.
When Paul looks back on what inspired him to make a change, he says it started within. He’s struggled with weight his entire life — and endured criticism and ridicule from others throughout the years. That wasn’t what moved him.
His advice for others? “Make sure it’s something you want to do. Until I was ready, it was not going to happen. I’m the one who put my mind to it and said, ‘OK I’m done with this. I want to do this.’”
Through the celebrations and tough times, one assurance keeps Paul going. “I still think to this day that my mom is looking down on me and that she helped me through all of this.”