News

In search of a new and thinner life

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

Tacoma resident Paula Manning decided she could find a new self and new life on the operating room table.

So on Feb. 8, the 26-year-old underwent gastric bypass surgery at St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way.

The surgery, among the most popular in weight-loss surgeries, suppresses the appetite by stapling the stomach and re-routing the digestive system.

For Manning, it was a last-ditch effort.

Her stomach has been stapled. It’s now a tiny pouch that can hold only a half-ounce of food.

“The last about two or three years, I’ve really put on weight. I’ve always been overweight, but I’ve never been this overweight,” Manning said. “I’ve tried exercise and I’ve tried the Atkins diet. With this surgery, it pretty much kills your appetite, which is what I need right now.”

At 5 feet 6 inches, Manning weighed 335 pounds in January during an interview before the surgery.

Her body mass index (BMI), which measures body weight relative to height, is 53. The cutoff BMI number for a healthy adult is 25, while a BMI between 26 and 39.9 is considered obese. A BMI of over 40, or being 100 or more pounds overweight, is considered morbidly obese.

Manning said she was always very physically active in the past. She is a former first-place winner in a state level Tae Kwon Do competition. She’s practiced Judo and played softball, she said, and her family is active.

But three years ago, a combination of life changes proved to be more than she could handle. A bad breakup, a layoff from work and a battle with clinical depression all arrived in quick succession.

Where some might turn to alcohol or drugs, she began to use food to comfort and numb herself.

And with the added pounds, she began to lose her old self, her old life, and suffer health problems.

She began to experience sleep apnea — cessation of breathing during sleep — and diabetes.

But she says she’s never lost her self-esteem.

“I know a lot of people do have problems with the way people treat (the overweight),” Manning said. “I’ve always been overweight, but I’ve never been singled out. Like I said, my personality — I’m not a victim.”

She said she’s never had to endure abusive and degrading comments from others. But “I do notice things. When you go out to a restaurant, you have to think about how far away (to place) the chair from the table.”

Four days after the surgery, Manning was recovering and in more pain than she had anticipated. She had a sharp pain in her abdomen and her appetite had reduced, she reported.

feel like I want to get my life back. Hopefully I can get off the depression medication, find a mate, be better off for having children.”

Dr. Ki Oh, who runs a clinic in Federal Way and performs weight-loss surgeries at St. Francis, did Manning’s surgery. “She’s going to lose about 100 pounds within about six to eight months,” Oh said.

And she can expect to lose 80 to 90 percent of her excess body weight within a year and a half, he added.

Oh, who has done weight-loss surgeries since 1985, said his job is dramatic.

“You can save a life.”

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565, eciepiela@fedwaymirror.com

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