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Healthy You

Liz’s Story: From Surgery to Strides

Friday, April 29, 2016 7:48 AM

Liz Suehr had been overweight most of her life. Between dieting and exercise, her weight would fluctuate – but she was never truly happy. Liz’s doctor would often suggest help, but Liz thought she could do it on her own. With a little push from her doctor, support from the NorthShore bariatric team and with a determined frame of mind, Liz was able to go from surgery to a half marathon.

How did your journey to surgery begin? What led you to the decision about getting bariatric surgery?

I have been overweight almost my whole life. I have dieted many times and lost a significant amount of weight over the years, but I always gained it back; sometimes even more than I lost. I have a wonderful support system of family and friends. My very best friend is a surgeon (unrelated to bariatric) and she has suggested surgery to me over the years. I always said, “I don’t need surgery. I can do it on my own. I have done it before.”

In the past couple of years my health has declined. “It’s nothing serious,” I would tell myself. My borderline diabetic, beginning stages of kidney disease because of my high blood pressure was “all fixable.” My primary care physician – who has been my doctor since I was in high school – is involved in medically supervised weight loss and she has also suggested the surgery to me over the years. Finally September 2014, I had my annual test results. My blood work was atrocious. My doctor said, “If you are looking for a sign to move forward with bariatric surgery, this is it.” And that was it. I had hit my rock bottom; I came to terms with the fact that I was slowly killing myself.

I remember calling my dad and crying about how I had realized – after seeing the blood test results and hearing it from my doctor – that I was on a very unhealthy path and it was time for me to really take control of my life and make decisions to better my health. It was truly my rock bottom and I was ready to confront it and move forward.

Why did you choose the bariatric program with NorthShore?

I did a lot of research on the different programs. I attended a coupleof information sessions and met with a couple of surgeons at the various programs. I felt more connected with NorthShore. I felt that NorthShore was able to offer me the whole package: support, continued care, pre/post, etc. NorthShore was available to answer all my questions. I particularly liked the fact that I could just send an email to any member of the team through NorthShoreConnect and they were truly responsive. With my busy schedule that was helpful – and still is. I felt that NorthShore actually cared about me, rather than just another patient number coming through the program.

What was the most difficult part post-surgery?

I am 10 months out of surgery and I think the past couple of weeks have definitely been my hardest. Immediately post-surgery, I had very little pain and was only in the hospital for about 24 hours. I bounced back fairly quickly and never looked back. I went into surgery knowing what to expect and why I was there. Having the right frame of mind and determination helped my body, and mind and soul heal and helped me move forward with my new life.

But in these past couple of weeks I have had a hip injury, which has caused me to slow down on my running and be creative with my workouts. I also have had some significant stresses in my work life. My old coping mechanism in these situations was to eat. And I still face that, particularly in the past couple of weeks. Before surgery, it is extremely important to address and tackle the reasons that led you to the surgery and gain the strength to continue to face them head on in the future. Surgery does not fix your emotions, and you need to be strong and fight for yourself even in the stressful moments. Fight for the person you want to be post-surgery and do not let your pre-surgery self interfere with your success.

Why did you choose running? And what was your motivation to keep you going?

I have always been an athlete at heart. I was always involved in sports in grade school, high school and college. I have done triathlons in the past as an adult and was interested in getting back into that circuit. You do not need much to get started with running; you just need to be able to walk. I started with the Couch to 5K Program and slowly but surely improved my time and distance. I began participating in 5K races and enjoyed the camaraderie and just getting out there and saying, “Yep, I am doing a 5K this weekend.” There are not many better feelings than crossing a finish line that means way more to you than the line in a road.

The more lines I crossed, the more challenges I felt I needed to take. I was at a point where there was nothing holding me back anymore. I just ran and never looked back. My motivation for keeping up my running was always my next race – and of course the training for the half marathon. Just because you have gastric bypass surgery, does not make the decision to get up and work out easy. It is still the same decision you have to make. “Get up and get going,” I would always tell myself, “Push longer, go harder, don’t be afraid.” In the beginning, jogging for one minute straight was seemingly impossible and I would tell myself “It is only one minute of your life, go.” Eventually those minutes became more and the distance became longer. Eventually it became one more mile, one more mile to go, and then I completed the Chicago Half Marathon in 2 hours and 8 minutes! I am so proud and looking forward to my next race/challenge!

Did you have any specific post-surgery goals in mind? Have you accomplished all of them – if not, which ones have you accomplished and which ones are to be accomplished?

My initial goal was to weigh 165 pounds. I am now 160. My new goal is 150 and I plan on getting there before the end of 2015. My true goal was not about a number on the scale. My goal was to create a happy healthy life for myself. I wanted to be happy and my weight prior to surgery was a constant reflection of the unhappiness I felt about myself.

How has the surgery impacted your overall lifestyle and quality of life?

Once I conquered my demons during the three-month medically supervised weight loss prior to surgery, I was ready to let go. I was ready to free myself and live the life I always dreamed of: happy, attractive, healthy and active. I can honestly say that I am happy and MUCH healthier than I was.

Why did you choose to train for the Chicago Half Marathon?

I never thought I would ever be able to run a half marathon. That was something I just convinced myself would never be a possibility. Showing up for that race and then finishing was an AMAZING feeling. I was so proud. It was a long journey with tough battles, perseverance, amazing support from family and friends and NorthShore. It was positively overwhelming and I cannot wait to complete my next challenge.

What advice do you have for people starting their journey – what should they consider when they start their journey and how can they stay motivated throughout?

People need to start this process and go into this for the right reasons. The only way to be truly successful is to know that the surgery is a tool to help you reach your goals. You still have to work hard and push yourself in ways you may never have thought possible. I am here to tell you it is possible and you can reach your goals. And when you do you will be so happy and so healthy. I HIGHLY recommend the NorthShore program.

Honestly, NorthShore is awesome and I could not have achieved so much of my success without them; my whole team. I am also very fortunate to have an amazing support system in my life, family and friends. I have had them by my side the entire time. My mom has been my cheerleader at several of the finish lines, my dad has pushed me along with his words of encouragement and walking with me, my six siblings and six brothers- and sisters-in-laws each have showed up and supported my journey in various ways. My sister flew in from Colorado and stayed overnight with me in the hospital. She took great care of me. My closest friends continue to encourage me to improve and stay on my program. One of the staff members from the NorthShore program has become a dear friend and an excellent source of support. All of these individuals – including strangers that tell me I have touched them in some way – inspire and motivate me to continue on my journey and help others realize they are not alone and success is truly possible.