Losing weight wasn’t a matter of vanity for Sally Huffer. It was a matter of life and death.
By Nancy Ford • Photo by Yvonne Feece
Losing weight. It’s New Year’s resolution Numero Uno.
But for Sally Huffer, getting her weight under control was much more than a vow made at midnight on the last day of December.
“Looking in the mirror, I would have been a fool not to see my own mortality staring back at me,” Huffer says. “I lost my mother last year and one of my best friends in May of this year. Both could have made decisions to prolong their lives but opted for the majority of their lives to engage in behavior that was deadly—smoking.”
After suffering these losses, Huffer realized she was doing the same thing with her own vice—food. And she had promised both her parents prior to their deaths that she’d keep an eye out for “The Best Brother in the Whole Wide World ‘Trademark,’” as she refers to her brother, Bradley. “That meant that I had to stick around.”
On September 17 of this year, her 43rd birthday, Huffer entered Park Plaza Hospital to undergo a “laprascopic Roux-en-Y gastric bypass and cholecystectomy.”
“The latter is a fancy way of saying I had my gall bladder removed,” she says. “I did not know it at the time, but my gall bladder was infected with a very large stone.”
Some might think undergoing surgery is a strange way to celebrate one’s birthday, but it made perfect sense to Huffer. “I figured if people can renew their wedding vows, I can renew my birthday,” she reasons.
Hadar Spivak, MD, FACS, “a brilliant man,” Huffer extols, performed the surgery, which cost $18,000, which her insurance didn’t cover. “There apparently is a loophole in the state of Texas that gives insurance companies the right to deny coverage to companies with less than 250 employees, even if my employer wanted to purchase a rider to cover the surgery,” Huffer says. “I understand that it’s hard for them to spread the cost out, but Medicaid covers the surgery.
“But I was afraid that at my weight, I couldn’t wait—heeheehee—until I qualified for Medicaid,” she quips. Huffer’s financial planner, Gary Brownfield, recommended she purchase the surgery with a credit card that awarded points for purchases.
“I was able to get gift cards for people during the holidays with the points I had accumulated. I didn’t have to pay any interest, and then paid off the credit card with the money I had saved.”
Huffer’s hospital stay lasted four days, which she followed with a few days’ pampering at a local hotel to recuperate. Her surgery resulted in “four very tiny incisions,” and a larger one, about two inches long that allowed a route for infection to exit the body, took about a month and a half to heal. For about a week after surgery, she also had a tube coming out of her abdomen to allow fluid to drain—all with minimal pain.
“I had some shooting pains where the doctor said scar tissue was forming on my abdominal muscles,” she says. “But that has subsided now.”
Every day, Huffer says, she feels stronger and stronger; she had lost more than 70 pounds as of December 1. “I used up a lot of gravity,” she jokes, adding more solemnly, “I still have a long, long way to go.” Regarding other numbers, Huffer has no specific target weight. Her goal is simply to live longer.
“I plan to keep losing after I’m under 200—don’t get me wrong. It’s just one of those things I cannot wrap my brain around.”
Huffer, Montrose Counseling Center’s community projects specialist since August 1, 2000, realizes her weight loss carries with it emotional implications as well as physical. “When I first met with Dr. Spivak, he asked me what I thought about getting into a size 10. I started weeping. I remember wearing a size 14 in sixth grade; I have no memory of being smaller than that. He said I may even end up in a smaller size. This is not something I can comprehend. Still.”
Less than four months after surgery, Huffer says she is already experiencing vast improvement in her health. “This last summer I had been diagnosed with diabetes, and that is in remission. I feel better—I can fit into armchairs! I am much more disciplined in terms of drinking a lot of water and eating three times a day. I used to not eat all day long until I came home from work. That does a serious number on your metabolism.”
Apart from “harassing my kid brother for years to come,” Huffer says, there are “silly things” she looks forward to doing that she couldn’t do at the height of her obesity. “I couldn’t go to movies at River Oaks Theater because the seats are uncomfortably narrow. I was ashamed to fly because I knew they’d slap me with purchasing two seats, not to mention all the fearful stares of everyone in the boarding area who prays they don’t have to sit next to me. I won’t have to ask for a seat belt extension and will be able to sit in the exit row. Hopefully the summer heat won’t be so debilitating. I will have more stamina. I already have more than I did before surgery, and I imagine that will continue to improve. And I’m looking forward to being able to buy something other than shoes in a regular department store!”
Food for Thought
Unlike lapband surgery, which is mostly performed as outpatient surgery, gastric bypass requires being admitted to the hospital. Huffer opted for the more invasive gastric bypass surgery, despite increased threat of complications, based on success rate and body mass index (BMI). “People with higher BMIs do better with gastric bypass,” Huffer says.
Lapband patients must be extremely compliant with getting adjustments and following the diet regimen in order to be successful. Even then, they may only lose up to half the weight they’re going to lose in an 18-month period. With gastric bypass surgery, compliance is not negotiable. “You can get physically sick if you don’t follow the rules, which include taking small bites, chewing food thoroughly, avoiding sugars and fatty foods, not drinking with meals. It’s also critical to take vitamins, since the gastric bypass works through a method of malabsorption.”
Nancy Ford reported on the Proposition 8 protest in December’s OutSmart .
“I have met some other people in the GLBT community who have had either lapband or gastric bypass surgery, and I am so grateful to be able to get to know them better,” says Sally Huffer, who underwent gastric bypass surgery in September. “It’s nice to feel a sense of community within the community.”