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WLS Plastics from the Patient Perspective

This is likely one of the hardest blogs I will ever write for you, even as I do it, I am nervous, I am scared and I am self-conscious, but I feel that there is something we’re not talking about out loud in the WLS community and that is, the realism of results and success of body contouring and reconstructive plastic surgery to address the sagging skin that so often occurs after we have successfully lost a good amount of weight.

I get so many questions from readers and fellow Bariatric Surgery patients about plastics; but the thing I get asked the most is, “Can I see your before and after pictures?” I’ve usually quietly avoided the topic; I mean who in the world wants to show someone some of the most unflattering pictures of you ever taken, pretty much naked, with a bunch of extra skin hanging off your body?

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The Before Part of Plastics from the Patient Perspective:

Let’s talk about those before pictures for a moment. I hate them. I hate everything about them. For me personally, the skin hanging off my body was worse than the weight ever was. At 420 lb it was very easy for me to look at myself in the mirror and say “I’m cute, if you don’t think so flip off.” That got harder and harder for me as the skin started showing itself. I’d find myself standing in front of the mirror trying to see the 195 lb body that was underneath all that skin that was left behind and I was more self-conscious, more unhappy and found myself more unattractive than I had ever before.

For me, the biggest emotional success of my weight loss journey is the fact that I can honestly say that I have gone from being a victim, to being a survivor, to actually living for the first time.  For me there were several things I wanted from Plastic Surgery.

  • I wanted a body that represented the hard work I have put into it.
  • I wanted to remove the excess skin that I saw as remnants of my abusers hold on my life and their ability to still affect my life nearly twenty plus years later.
  • I wanted to enjoy exercising more because I didn’t have all this skin swinging off me when I moved.
  • I wanted to feel pretty again, or to be happy enough with myself at 195 lb that I could look in the mirror and say “I’m cute, if you don’t think so flip off.”

I did my research. I looked at before and after photos. I consulted with two different plastic surgeons and I selected my surgeon based on which one’s staff was more willing to work with my insurance. I had spoken to my insurance company several times about the possibility of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery after losing 260 lb and I had several ideas, tips, hints, and suggestions about how I might get the skin removal surgeries covered.

My approach was three-fold:

  1. My insurance covered “complications” of Gastric Bypass so my first approach was that the excess skin was a complication of Gastric Bypass surgery.
  2. My insurance company had told me that they would consider anything that was “Medically Necessary.” With the amount of extra skin I had on my body, I still had skin folds and rolls of skin on my body that allowed for things like rashes, infections and sores and removing the skin would alleviate these issues.
  3.  I have a diagnosis of Discoid Lupus. It is a skin disease that causes rashes and legions on your body, usually in sun exposed areas. For me however, with the excess skin, instead of just the normal photosensitive Lupus issues, I developed Lupus symptoms in the skin folds, in places where my skin touched skin, under my breasts, under my arms, under my stomach. Because of this diagnosis, the “Medical Necessity” of my plastics was even more prevalent.

Getting the insurance approvals on the surgeries wasn’t ever difficult. Of the three surgeries that I did, the insurance company denied only the second one the first time we submitted and that was largely due to the fact that we had included a breast augmentation and implants in the paperwork. All it took was a letter from my Plastic Surgeon clarifying what was medically necessary which was sent the day after we got the denial and just a few days later we had an approval.

We had the insurance approval. We were ready to get started. I was elated… and I had completely unrealistic expectations.

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The Hardest Part of all: The Recover, Recoup, Re-cut Phase

There are so many things about this phase of Body Contouring after plastic surgery that I feel I should share with you I am not even sure where to begin.

First let’s address one of the other questions I get all the time. “Was it painful?” – Yes. It was by far the most painful thing I have ever done in my entire life. I’ve had my tonsils pulled out, my wisdom teeth yanked, my appendix removed, I’ve had a hysterectomy, I’ve broken bones, I use to be a self-mutilator who liked to cut myself and I’ve been physically abused by people a lot stronger than me. NOTHING has ever hurt as bad as reconstructive plastic surgery. Was it worth it? Yes a hundred times over. But did it hurt? Yeah it sort of felt like I had been hit by a truck, severed in half and sewn back together.

And it wasn’t exactly easy on the emotions and feelings either. There were phases that were so difficult. Between surgeries I would hate the parts of my body that were not fixed. I’d stand in front of the mirror grabbing my skin, yanking and pulling on it to trying to envision what my body was going to be like when it was gone. I stopped going to the gym and swimming because I couldn’t handle how much skin was on my thighs and how horrible I felt I looked. It was amazing to me, at 420 lb I had no problem putting on a bathing suit even though I knew people would start at the size of my thighs in astonishment of their girth; but now, I couldn’t handle having anyone see all the skin hanging from them, it embarrassed me and humiliated me more than being heavy ever did. This is hard for a lot of people to understand and wrap their head around, so let me help you…

The hall was crowded, kids bustling around as they rushed to their lockers to get their books for their next class. She stood at her locker with her back against it, cradling her books to her chest as if she were protecting them.  Her right foot moved slightly as she readied herself to leave but it halted as a frown appeared on her face. Standing in front of her, blocking her way was one of the more popular girls; one of the “mean girls” if you will. “Awe look at the little fat girl hugging her books because nobody else wants to hug her. Stop eating Ding Dongs and Twinkies and you might not leave high school a never been kissed virgin.” The blond-haired girl clutching her books as if there was safety in them, took a deep breath and even though her voice cracked as tears threatened to stream down her face, she responded courageously, “I might be fat, but I can lose weight, you’re just ugly inside and out and you can’t ever change that.”

At 420 lb I had two things that I could console myself with whenever I felt ridiculed about my weight. I had the control in the knowledge that I could somehow change my situation, and I had the vision in my head of what I would look like when I did that.  Those two things are what helped me get through nearly 25 years of different unhealthy levels of obesity between the ages and sizes eleven to thirty-two.  Now that was gone.  Prior to my thigh lift surgery in November, I wouldn’t wear a bathing suit because I was so embarrassed of my thighs and because with the skin hanging off them, weighing 165 lbs  there was no more change that I personally could evoke to improve the situation. No amount of exercise was going to make it better, losing more weight would only make it worse, there was no more control and no more hope and it was an emotionally defeating place for me to be living.

Setting aside the physical and emotional aspects there were the financial ones as well. Now I will say I had some complications after the first surgery, but pretty much my year went like this.

  • January – Move Heather here so I had someone to help take care of me after the surgeries.
  • February – Reconstructive Surgery #1
  • March – Healing
  • April – Healing
  • May – Healing / Walked a Half Marathon
  • June – Healing waiting for Surgeons Release to move forward
  • July – Preparing & Submitting for next surgery
  • August – Reconstructive Surgery #2
  • September – Healing
  • October – Healing – Attended the OAC event and spent  1 month in CA with Family
  • November – Reconstructive Surgery #3
  • December – Healing

Now after the first surgery in February I had some complications that took a bit longer to heal from. But pretty much after each surgery for about 6 to 8 and sometimes even ten weeks I was pretty much a lump on a log healing unable to do much and definitely not working. I was very lucky, in that my insurance covered my surgeries thus allowing me to use a $22,500 loan I took out to pay for these surgeries to pay my portion of the first surgery and then, to live on throughout the year when I wasn’t working to keep the bills paid.

Even doing all that, by the end of the year I ended up $30,000 in debt on top of that on credit cards. But you know what, going into this my Family and I expected to end up somewhere around 60,000 in debt on plastic surgery, we’re not surprised to be here, but that doesn’t make it any more comfortable or less stressful and even though my household makes a decent amount of money, when you’ve been living paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet and you’ve maxed out your credit cards and taken out loans for your body that cost more each month than your car payment, it can be a bit overwhelming.   All that said would I do it again in a heartbeat? Yes. I would.

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After the plastics: The Realism of WLS Plastics

This was probably the hardest part of the entire journey for me. In fact, I am not sure that I can tell you with 100% certainty that I am beyond this part. What I can tell you is that my expectations coming into plastic surgery, despite what anyone told me, is that I would have a tight, lean body when all was said and done. Now is my body better than it was before? Hands down and I am grateful. But there are still some areas of my body that I would like improved. I would like my arms tighter and more symmetrical. I would like there to not be puddles of skin hanging from my abdomen when I do a push up. I’d like my breasts to be a bit fuller and I’d like there to not be extra skin hanging from my forearms.

These are things I want, and someday, if and when I can afford them, I will do them because they will make me happier. I’m not sure when that will be, but it will happen someday. In the meantime I won’t allow the little things that I am unhappy with myself about hinder where I am, what I am doing or invalidate the hard work and effort that has gone into having the body that I have, even if that body isn’t perfect.  The truth is I can never expect it to be. I am never going to have the body of a playboy model or a personal trainer who has never been 260 lbs overweight. What I do have is the body of a woman who used to weigh 420 lbs  lost weight and put it back on for years, and finally managed to get to a maintainable healthy weight and is working on being as fit and as healthy as her body will allow her to be. What I do have, is a body that can serve as an example to others who have lost or need to lose huge amounts of weight and give them a realistic idea of what they can expect afterwards so they are not as shocked and disappointed as I was when I realized that plastic surgery wasn’t going to get me the body I first envisioned.

It is with that goal in mind that I am publishing a Before and After Gallery of my Reconstructive Plastic Surgery.  If you’d liked to view these photos you can do so by visiting this link. The page is password protected to insure that you realize that the photos you are about to view are for educational purposes, and may be considered offensive to anyone that has a problem with partial nudity.  You will need to enter the password: PANDORASPLASTICS in order to open the page. By imputing the password you agree that you wish to view these photos.

Comments are not allowed on the gallery page itself but please feel free to post any comments or questions that you might have on this page instead. Please remember that I reserve the right to remove any offensive comments from my blog.  Basically, be kind, I am doing this to help educate people, not to be ridiculed or teased.

Excess Skin, Body Dimorphic Issues,  Weight Dissociation, Plastic Surgery, and Unhealthy Emotional Associations are something that I don’t think we talk about nearly enough in this community and that I do not feel there is nearly enough, patient side information out there on.

It is my intention to open the doors of communication here, and to try to be one of the voices that can both answer some of these questions, and, hopefully, advocate for others so that they might get the sort of medical coverage that I did paying for these life altering reconstructive surgeries.

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My spin on WLS Advocacy – What I am doing to help

A lot of people have asked me about my involvement with the Flab to Fabulous Pageant since segment aired on KOIN6 Local News on January 11,2013 about my weight loss journey didn’t really go into great details and they didn’t air any of the details they had about organizations that I am passionate about.

Last week, I was named the Ms. Fabulous 2012 Honoree and invited to the pageant week in Atlanta GA scheduled to take place May 26 through June 02 of this year. 

I’m very passionate about the Weight Loss Surgery community and always eager to do anything that I can to help it grow and flourish. A passion of mine, that I have often spoke of on my blog is to raise money for people who are not lucky enough to get their insurance to cover the costs of plastic surgeries the way mine did. My insurance has paid for all of my plastic surgery, that is pretty much unheard of in the weight loss surgery community, and because of my great fortune I am passionate about paying that forward to my community. My goal is to one day have my own Personal Trainer Business with Vendor Booths at all the events and be using my work and my passion to help pay for other people’s skin removal surgeries. This is something I am extremely passionate about. And that is exactly what the WLSFA does. The WLSFA, Weight Loss Surgery Foundation of America, is a non-profit organization that funds grant recipients for patients that need these lifesaving Bariatric Surgeries and Reconstructive Plastic Surgeries after they have achieved massive weight loss so that they can take their lives back from obesity just the way I have.  When I first set out to start my business I mentioned things about how I wanted to help pay for people’s surgeries, I even talked about wanting to set up some sort of Scholarship Donation Program in my Father’s name someday as a memorial to him since he is one of the biggest inspirations in my own weight loss journey. It is this passion, this love of my Father and his down home Texas, “Treat others the way you wish to be treated,” upbringing that drives my passion to make sure I give back to the community the things that the universe has so generously gifted me with.

oca-logo-footerIt is this same philosophy that drives my passion behind the OAC.  The OAC, Obesity Action Coalition changed my life and my participation at their Inaugural Your Weight Matters Convention in Dallas Texas gave me things that I never would have had prior to going. The professionals at that event gave me the confidence in my business approach, what I want to do, and where I am going with career as Personal Trainer as well as the education and empowerment to help me move past some of my own unhealthy body dimorphic issues and the guidance and direction that would empower me to attend one of the most respected schools in the country to obtain my certification. It gave me the opportunity to start making friends within the community, friends that I would bond with and that I know I will be friends with for years to come. It allowed me to meet some women that I looked up to an admired for their voices on their blogs; The World According to Eggface and Waning Woman. It allowed me to get feedback from my peers and it motivated me to push forward even faster with my goals as I truly saw that others were inspired by my success and determination, it allowed me the opportunity to get my voice heard by more women and some of those women are on Chris Powell’s Facebook page today asking him to get involved with this community and help us fight against the stigma and bias that people look on Weight Loss Surgery patients with. When I see a woman stand up and say that I am her WLS Idol, I am humbled, I am honored and I am even more driven because I am seeing first hand that my story can help inspire someone just starting out in this journey and help them know that they can make it. The OAC opened doors for me with their convention and that is why I have done things like volunteered for their committees this year, put myself in DC for a week on my own dime just hoping they can use me and my passion to share my story in an effort to help others get the sort of medical coverage that I did. That is why I have gone to my own Bariatric Surgery Center, and my own Bariatric Surgeon, Leslie Cagle , M.D., F.A.C.S. with Pacific Surgical Specialists and personally asked her to get involved with the OAC and sponsor all of their Bariatric Surgery Patients with OAC Memberships.

My Goals in 2013 Remain the same as always, which is why I am taking an entire week in February, pushing pause on my life here in Oregon and heading out the Dallas to go to the Cooper Institute and take their Certified Personal Trainers course in person. The opportunity to do this comes from a gentleman that preferred I not mention his name publicly  who has followed my blog since I first started it and who wanted to support my career change and saw that I was struggling with the intimidation factor of having to “study” and learn and pass a test again for the first time in nearly twenty years and wanted to give me the opportunity to learn in an environment that I will be more successful in. His gift came with a note that read “Because you wish to support others in their WLS and journey and success and I wish to do the same for you.”

I think that the Ms. Fabulous 2012 Honoree title is an amazing title to have. I was given the title after a couple of hours of conversation with the Pageant Director, Charlie Brown, because we just sort of clicked and my story touched her and my positive attitude, desire to help others in their weight loss journey and overall approach to “Life after Weight Loss” embodied the vision of what she has for Ms. Fabulous.  I see the Fabulous Pageant as a way for the weight loss surgery community to stand up and band together.

DSSAdvocacyFunDSS: Advocacy Through Fun. Please Join Me

One of the things that people love about me is that they respect me because I say what I think and I call things like I see them. And something  that I can tell you honestly as both a person that is trying to come into this community as a professional trainer and as a blogger who passionately cares about this community and the men and women that are members of it is that the stigma against weight loss surgery patients is unfair and biased. Weight loss should be celebrated equally on all levels, whether you lose the weight through diet and exercise alone, or whether you needed a program like Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers, Whether you were doing Atkins or Carb Cycling with Chris Powell, or whether you had weight loss surgery once, or even twice, the point is not HOW you lost your weight. The point is THAT you lost your weight.

The point is that you found what worked for you. Let me ask you something, if someone was standing in front of you dying of cancer and they had several options to try to attack their cancer, and they decided to choose the one that would go at it as fast and most aggressively as possible; would you fault them?

Obesity is a disease. I was just reading in my Cooper Institute Textbook last night that the leading causes of death in the US today are Cardiovascular Diseases, Cancers, COPD and Diabetes and we all know that obesity causes co-morbid conditions. I had Diabetes, I had Sleep Apnea, I had High Blood Pressure, I had Chronic Back Pain, I had constant skin rashes and sores, I had constant shortness of breath, and I had limited mobility. Gastric Bypass was my chosen method of attack on my taking my life back from being morbidly obese and being able to live a happy and healthy life my father wanted for me.

As Ms. Fabulous 2012 I had the opportunity to sponsor candidate for every category in the competition. I’ve got three contestants that are going to compete under my sponsorship and who I will be helping try to get the sponsorship funding they need to go to pageant week if they make Semi Finals. Two of my contestants are local Oregon WLS Patients who both had their surgery at the same hospital I did, though we had different surgeons and they are both success stories for two of the local Portland area Bariatric Surgeons. I am so excited to have them representing Oregon and I’m thrilled that they are both so passionate about telling their story and helping the weight loss community that they were both more than happy to volunteer to donate any cash prize money they receive throughout the pageant to the WLSFA Pacific Northwest Chapter.

I’ve always been the kind of person that likes to pay back to my community. I love the fact that I get to help some people of this community maybe become the next Mr. or Ms. Fabulous (or Active Fabulous) and help them showcase their own weight loss surgery stories. The fact that I can use this title to try to help our community by raising money for a cause I believe in excites me and the fact that I can hopefully draw attention to something that we all want to fight against, the stigma of Weight Loss Surgery from the general weight loss, fitness and media is unfair and unjustified.

That OAC Convention gave me all this confidence I have right now as did all my friends in the WLS community to really get out there and go for my dreams. There was a Bariatric Surgeon there named Lloyd Stegemann who introduced a room full of weight loss surgery patients to the concept that standing alone we are weak, by taking a chopstick and snapping it in two. Then he held a large group of them together and demonstrated that he could not break them and reminded us that together we are strong.  It is my hope that since you all know what my goals and aspirations are; you will really get behind my endeavor to use this 2012 Ms. Fabulous title to unite our community.

My mission is to prove to the weight loss, fitness and media industry that weight loss surgery is not a dirty word and that it isn’t the easy way out. The Fabulous Foundation chose me as their Ms. Fabulous because I have a story that when I have the floor to share it, disproves that concept several times over. I am living proof that even after WLS we work as hard as anyone else for this sort of transformation.

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KOIN6 Local News Segment Aired on January 11, 2013

Please, go to this link and use the comments section to lend your voice to my mission. Share your WLS Success Story and help break the stigma. Share the stories about struggling with regain and just how NOT easy this journey is. Share the stories about how you now run 5ks, 10ks and half Marathons. Share the stories about the people you reach through your blog voices, share about your struggles to find good protein shakes J — share…. Comment… and take the time to let Chris and Heidi Powell and their Management team know that we want them to stand behind this community too. 220,000 weight loss surgeries are performed in this country each year. Surely I can get some of you to put your sticks with mine so that they can’t be broken?

My Letter on Chris Powell’s Facebook Page: I cannot tell you how much this means to me. I am begging my friends and family to take the time to go comment on this page and help make this happen. If you take the time to read my stuff, please take the time to support me too.

http://www.facebook.com/realchrispowell/posts/10151226631791864?comment_id=25326741&notif_t=feed_comment

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Author: Pandora Williams

Author of Desperately Seeking Slender

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BariLife has decided to send me back to Paris to represent the WLS Community as I attempt to find my love of running again.
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