By MARIE GILBERT
5:34 PM EDT, June 22, 2012
It wasn't the life she had imagined — one that included high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and the prospect of knee replacement.
As a young girl full of life, she would never have pictured herself struggling to get through the day, spending most of her time in a recliner or bed, unable to do even the simplest of chores.
She had become a woman who avoided looking at herself in a mirror, missed more than 50 percent of her work days and could no longer find clothing in local department stores that would fit her 5x figure.
Michelle Hoover was morbidly obese.
Weight had not always been an issue, the Hagerstown woman said. But over the years, the pounds began to creep up on her.
Eventually, she weighed 350 pounds.
And she wasn't alone.
Her husband, John, had his own battles, tipping the scales at 296. He also was on insulin for his diabetes, along with 14 medications for other health problems.
Most painful, she said, was the fact that the couple's 24-year-old son, Matthew, was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, sleep apnea, high blood pressure "and would inherit his family health history" — all because of excess weight. At his heaviest, his mother noted, he weighed 334 pounds.
It was a life, Michelle Hoover said, "where I was just existing. I realized the weight gain was ongoing and it was killing me."
She knew she needed to make serious changes when the 47-year-old woman was told by her doctor she might not live to see 50.
That's when she began researching bariatric surgery.
After informing her husband and son that this was her plan, Hoover said she met some resistance — but not enough to dissuade her.
In fact, she was the one who changed their minds.
When they saw the success of her surgery, each decided to follow in her footsteps.
Today, the family has lost a combined more than 450 pounds.
Michelle, who had gastric bypass on Oct. 19, 2009, has lost 218 pounds. Matthew, whose surgery was on Aug. 17, 2011, has lost 191 pounds. And John has shed 80 pounds since his gastric bypass on Dec. 7, 2011.
"Honestly, I never really realized how heavy we had gotten," said John Hoover, 47. "When I look at the change in the pictures we have from before, I'm amazed. I didn't see the weight issues in my own family."
Adding unwanted pounds to her frame began soon after high school graduation, Michelle said, "when my doctor put me on a long-term dose of prednisone because of my asthma. Then, we had Matthew and I didn't lose the baby weight."
"As a family, we just kept watching the scales go up along with our waistlines," she noted. "When Matthew was a toddler, he was thin and we had to take him for weekly weight checks to make sure he didn't lose weight. Eventually, he also began gaining weight."
In 2005, Michelle said she retired from the State of Maryland because of health issues.
"I know now that many of those health issues were exacerbated by my weight," she admitted. "I wasn't sure how I was going to do it, but I knew I needed to lose weight. I began praying about it and researching bariatric surgery in 2008 and, within a year, I had decided to have gastric bypass."
Michelle said she had been diagnosed as morbidly obese and had many of the co-morbidities that were listed to be a candidate for bariatric surgery, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma and sleep apnea.
"I had been on every diet or weight loss program out there," she recalled. "One evening at dinner, I told John and Matthew that I was going to have the surgery. They didn't know I had even been thinking about it until that night."
"My son's reaction was, ‘No, Mom. You can die from that surgery.' I told him, 'I'm dying now.'"
Although her husband was against the surgery, Michelle said he accompanied her to a Meritus Bariatric Support Group informational meeting. After the meeting, he agreed to go with her to consult with a surgeon in May of 2009.
"At that first meeting, we discussed gastric bypass and lap banding as my alternatives," she said. "Because of my health issues and my weight, the doctor said gastric bypass was my best option. I began my process that day."
Michelle said her son still didn't want her to have the surgery and refused to talk about it with her.
"It took him several months of researching it himself to accept my decision," she said.
On Oct. 19, 2009, Michelle had gastric bypass.
"That was the beginning of my 218 pound weight loss," she said, as well as the beginning of a new life.
It wasn't long before her son began to notice the positive changes — both in weight loss and attitude.
"I watched Mom lose weight and began contemplating the surgery for myself," Matthew said. "I started my bariatric journey in November of 2010 and had my surgery on Aug. 17, 2011. I've been able to come off of all of my medications."
John soon followed his wife and son and underwent gastric bypass in December of 2011.
"It was not as much about weight loss as it was about getting a handle on all of my health issues," he said. "I saw that Michelle was off of her diabetes medicine within 30 days of her surgery and many more of her medications were reduced. Due to my inability to lose weight on my own, and at the urging of my primary care physician, I decided I would start the process of bariatric surgery. My insurance required a six-month diet and I felt that I could lose the weight with the help of a dietitian — possibly avoiding the need to even have the surgery. I lost a total of six pounds in those six months."
Since his surgery, John said he no longer takes diabetic medication or insulin shots and is currently only taking a very low dose of medication for high blood pressure and acid reflux. He's hoping to be taken off the blood pressure medication in the next few months.
The surgery has changed their lives, Michelle said, forcing them to eat healthier.
"We have also learned, as a family, to support and encourage one another," she said. "We have always been close. But this has given us a chance to grow. We also have a desire to spread the word that it's OK to choose bariatric surgery as your tool to weight loss."
When she was a size 5x, Michelle said she was forced to buy clothing from catalogs or over the Internet "because I couldn't shop in any stores in Hagerstown. I also had not owned a bathing suit or blue jeans for more than 10 years."
Now, she said, "I have really enjoyed shopping for new clothes because I can shop in a store again. I bought a bathing suit last year and I'm wearing jeans again. What a boost to my self-esteem. I have even had friends tell me they see a difference in my self-confidence and that I seem happier."
She also has seen an increase in her energy and motivation.
In the past, Michelle said family vacations often were affected when she needed to rest.
"Last July, John and I went to Blackwater Falls and I was able to walk the 214 steps to the bottom of the falls and back up," she shared. "I don't feel like I am holding my family back anymore. I still need to rest sometimes, but not as often or for as long as before."
"This change isn't just about going on vacation," John said. "It is about not having to plan all of our time together around illnesses or limitations caused by our obesity. Looking back, I never saw Michelle or Matthew by their size. It just wasn't an issue for me. I am happy that we have lost weight. But, more than that, I am happy that we are healthier."
Michelle said the family struggled with their weight for years, so she understands what so many other people are facing.
But there are solutions, she said.
"We are just ordinary people who have chosen bariatric surgery to achieve our weight loss goals. If we can do it, so can you. Don't give up. You just have to find the right tool for you."
For those considering bariatric surgery, the Hoovers suggest attending one of the informational meetings sponsored by Meritus Weight Loss Center.
"You'll get to hear success stories and talk to people who have actually had the surgery," Michelle said.
"My only regret," she added, "is that I didn't have the surgery sooner."
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