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  • Dee Bermudez

Healing Through Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy

Being born at a little over 4 pounds, one would have doubted that my actions later in my life would have caused such pain and anguish.

Like most families did in the South, we celebrated birthdays and other major holidays with a buffet fit for a king, and you were never allowed to walk away from the table until your plate was clean, it did not matter how much food was scooped into your plate.

However, I became the oddity in my family. While my parents and two siblings remained slim, even eating the same foods I did, it was me that gained. My dad placed me on my first diet at the age of 10. I was miserable and wanted no part of it. Then a few years later, I hit a growth spurt and became taller and thinner and I entered my first years of high school weighing in at about 95 pounds.

Private and Public Pain

My parents were unaware of how I was suffering in silence with debilitating stomach issues. I seemed to get sick a couple of days a week and the pain in my abdomen was excruciating. I knew how to hide it. It wasn’t easy, but I hated going to the doctor, so I kept quiet. I was smiling on the outside but dying on the inside.

Fast forward to August 1989, as I walked down the aisle in that big church with all eyes on me, I knew everyone was thinking that I was a chubby bride. I was so embarrassed and wanted it to be over so I could hide.

My addiction to food, mainly sweets, was in full swing and I was so out of control. I made sure I had a stockpile of sweets, hidden where no one would get them or even question me about them. If I came home at the end of the day and realized that I was out of sweets, I would go into panic mode. Just like my childhood illness that I kept a secret, I was able to keep this a secret, but only for so long.

Hiding From My Own Blessings

Here I was, with two beautiful daughters and in a marriage that was so broken, but again I hid it from the world. After all, I was determined to make sure that in this one area, people thought I had it together and I wanted them to see a beautiful life. I felt so alone because I was alone. I was shoved on the back burner and did not feel one ounce pretty or important. I was co-existing. Food was my best friend. Food reached its icy grip around my mind and consumed every cavity of my brain. Although I would take vacations, I rarely went out in the town I lived for fear someone would see how fat I really was. I attended church, but I made sure I bolted out of that door as soon as it was dismissed. I was always scoping out the room to see if I was the largest person there, and usually, I was. I was a 278-pound pile of misery.

I was on six insulin shots a day, high blood pressure medication, my joints hated me for the load they had to endure every day that my feet hit the floor, and the popping noise my bones made sounded like an old limb about to retire from its trunk because it was old and weak.

The addiction to food landed me in the hospital with an 828 blood sugar level. Part of that stay was spent in the ICU, where all I could think of was how I couldn’t wait to be released from there so I could have a piece of cake. That’s right; it did not change me being in there, fighting for my life. I was reckless as I had always been and maybe even more. I was on a fast track to being placed 6 feet under and honestly, at times, I felt as if I would have been better off.

Then a few months after that hospital stay, the childhood illness came back with a vengeance! Its ugly head crept back over the darkness of my life and it landed me back in the hospital once again. While there, my doctor assured me that he would find answers and that he did. I had to undergo a 4-hour test where I ate oatmeal laced with nuclear medication and they then took an x-ray and scan of my stomach once each hour for four hours. I was diagnosed with gastroparesis and told that there is no cure, that the medication to treat it would be coming out of Canada and is very costly, and that I would be on it for the rest of my life. So here I was, almost 280 pounds, in a failing marriage for years and years, diabetic, with severe high blood pressure and now this. I had reached rock bottom. I looked into the eyes of my daughters and knew something had to change.

The Catalyst of Change

I began to research possible ways to give me back my quality of life because, at this point, I had none. I dug deep through article after article, book after book, and could not find a thing positive to help me. Then, after dealing with this disease for over two years, I came across a tiny article on the research and possible benefits of vertical sleeve gastrectomy for gastroparesis patients. There wasn’t enough research and studies for it to be backed from a medical standpoint, but to me, it was a glimmer of hope. I set out trying to get my insurance company to pay for this and was denied four times. I looked into out-of-pocket expenses and realized I would probably never be able to afford them. Then one day I read about a doctor in Mexico that was in the top 10 vertical sleeve gastrectomy doctors in the world, and all about his success rate. I couldn‘t find one bad review on him. I saw the price and thought that might be possible with a lot of sacrificing and cracking down. I was nervous about going to Mexico, but 100% at peace with the surgeon and the procedure. If there was even a small chance that it could help me with my disease and help me to lose weight at the same time, I was willing to do it. My surgeon told me that he had never had a patient that had this disease and he and I were excited to see the results.

The weight started falling off relatively quickly and I started to feel better. Slowly I was taken off insulin and the high blood pressure medication. Then the unthinkable happened. The disease that doctor after doctor had told me there was no cure for began to diminish. Before long, I was off the medication for that as well. My surgeon, Dr. Guillermo Alvarez, and I were astonished at the outcome

I started to feel alive again. I hadn't experienced that feeling in so long. I decided to make choices for myself, to do what was best for me, and stop hiding. I had painted a beautiful picture of something that wasn’t and this artist was ready to retire her paintbrush.

A Journey Worth Taking

It has been two and a half years since my surgery. I am no longer a prisoner to those dreaded sicknesses or to the toxic marriage that I was in and yes, I still struggle with those addictive behaviors. The support group that I am in helps so much. I have learned how to control it. Sure, I put on a few pounds since the surgery, but the tool is still working just as intended. I am still very restricted to the amount of food I can eat and just have to focus on filling that sleeve up with healthy and nutritious foods.

I am left with saggy skin and yes, it bothers me, but not as much as being in and out of the hospital with obesity-related issues. I lost 127 pounds and my body thanks me every day. I have a new job that I love, my daughters are happy and healthy, I have two beautiful grandchildren with another one on the way, and I have found love again - real love! Along this journey, I can truly say that I have met some of the most humble, beautiful people in the world who I can without a doubt call my friend!

I turn 52 on January 4th, but I feel younger and better than when I was in my late 20’s.

I am overcoming the world, one bite at a time!

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Dee was born in Greenville SC and spent a couple of her early years in Rhode Island when her family temporarily relocated there. She returned to South Carolina, attended high school, and became a die-hard fan of her FAVORITE college football team – the Clemson Tigers who just won the 2018 National Championship!

Dee drove a school bus for the last 16 years & recently embarked on a career change. She is now working in the medical records department at a prison in her hometown of Millen GA.

Her hobbies are DIY projects and Interior Design. She “LOVES” being in the kitchen trying to create low-carb desserts & entrees.

Never really a gym goer, Dee prefers walking outdoors, biking & occasionally doing yoga.

Dee had her VSG in Mexico by Dr. Guillermo Alvarez. Her favorite NSV is “Being able to fit on a rollercoaster without the bars being so tight that I could hardly breathe!”

She says the most difficult part of the VSG was trying to train her brain to listen to her stomach when she got full. “Those extra few bites would land me in the bathroom sick & throwing up,” says Dee. “As time went on, I eventually learned how to stop when full.”

Dee’s advice to anyone about to take a step on this journey is to allow the tool to do the job it is designed to do, get your water, protein & vitamins in daily! Listen to EVERYTHING the doctor tells you to do! Buckle up, you're in for the ride of your life!

Dee has two daughters who are very successful in the careers of their choice, 2 grandchildren, & 1 grandchild due soon.


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