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Embracing Hope: Russ’s Journey to Choosing Weight Loss Surgery

Last updated: March 14, 2024

If I’m going to do this, I want to do it right because I’m tired of living this way.

If I’m going to do this, I want to do it right because I’m tired of living this way.

For Russ Parker, choosing to pursue weight loss surgery came down to a desire to live his life fully.

The Marshfield resident wants to enjoy grand moments — like traveling to Europe — and small ones — like taking walks with his wife and having the energy to run around with his kids.

 “I’m 38 years old, and I sit in a lawn chair and watch my kids play in the yard because I can’t do it,” he says.

Russ’s weight topped out at about 535 pounds. His size has kept him from many experiences — from flying to watching movies in a theater, because he can’t fit in the seats.

“If I’m going to do this, I want to do it right because I’m tired of living this way,” he says.

Longtime Struggle

Russ has struggled with his weight since his teen years. He was close to 30 when his weight surpassed the 400-pound mark. From there, his weight increased, and other challenges arose.

In 2017, Russ, a commercial truck driver at the time, fell off a semi-truck and injured his kidney. About five years later, he was diagnosed with kidney cancer and had to have a kidney removed.

With Russ’s obesity come additional health problems including sleep apnea, high blood pressure, and joint pain. Despite all that, he says he considers himself healthy overall but knows that as middle age approaches, issues will likely mount.

Those are just the physical health challenges. Living with obesity also has been emotionally painful.

Russ says when his in-laws come to town and want to eat out, he’s not comfortable. He feels the sting of judgment even when he’s filling his plate at a buffet with healthy foods.

“My wife asks why I’d rather eat at home or go through a drive-thru. I told her, ‘I’m tired of people staring at me,” he says.

Choosing Surgery

Throughout the years, Russ has tried several weight loss strategies, including many diets, a patch, and supplements. Some weight would come off, but not for long.

“I’ve never been able to sustain it,” he says.

Finally, Russ decided to talk to his doctor. Insurance wouldn’t approve weight loss medication. Russ and his doctor then discussed a strategy in which Russ would place all the food he ate in various-sized containers to manage portion size.

“She asked if I was willing to commit fully and take them with me everywhere I went, including on vacations and to celebrations,” Russ says. “I thought about it and said, ‘no.’”

That honest assessment led to a discussion about weight loss surgery.

“I said I wanted the best, and my doctor told me that ThedaCare was the best,” Russ says.

Making the decision wasn’t easy. Russ says his father had lap band and then gastric bypass surgery more than 20 years ago, and it didn’t go well. His dad, though, admitted that he didn’t have the support he needed, and that kept him from maintaining his weight loss.

In talking with others who’d had weight loss surgery more recently and with better support in place, he heard of many successes. Hearing others’ stories helped sway him to choose surgery.

Preparation Process

In November 2023, Russ started down the path of having Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery through ThedaCare Bariatrics. He says he’s grateful for the support and comprehensive care he’s received.

“It’s been nothing like my dad’s experience,” he says. “Here, I came in for an informational meeting, and they told me everything that was going to happen. They gave me recipes. They answered questions about the process and told me what I could and couldn’t eat.”

Most insurance requires three to six months of nutritional counseling before approving surgery. To help prepare people for success, the pre-surgery process through ThedaCare Bariatrics also includes exercise and behavioral health counseling, as well as meeting with a surgeon.

“The encouragement that I’ve gotten in this process is just amazing to me,” Russ says.

Sticking to the pre-surgical diet has had its ups and downs, Russ says. For example, he lost about 20 pounds initially, but then he and his family got sick for several weeks in January and resorted to eating convenience foods for a short time.

“It was eye-opening just how quickly the weight can come back on,” he says.

Hopes for the Future

Russ is still in the process of completing the preparation process and is awaiting the time he can schedule surgery. As he does, he’s looking to the future and trying to inspire others along the way.

Since deciding to have surgery, Russ has been documenting his journey on TikTok. He says he wants to share his experience with others in hopes of educating and encouraging them to get honest with themselves about their weight challenges, as he’s done. He’s also aiming to break down bias.

“If I can use social media to start a conversation about weight, maybe I can change just a couple of people’s opinions,” he says. “Instead of being stared at and judged, we can get the support to change.”

Russ, who works for his church and is studying to become a photographer and videographer, would like to attend culinary school eventually. He envisions a future that might include having a studio where he can create and share content that teaches people about healthy cooking.

As for the surgery, Russ says he’s ready.

“I’m excited,” he says. “I want to get started, and I want to get the weight off so I can follow my dreams.”

Ready to explore your own weight loss journey?

Tags: bariatrics obesity patient story Roux-en-Y gastric bypass russ's story Weight Loss Surgery

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