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Joan and Ann Kirchner

Joan and Ann Kirchner were tired of their constant health problems getting in the way of life and turned to surgical weight loss for help. See how this mother and daughter came together to change their growing health issues around.

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Mother and Daughter Take On New Lives

Joan Kirchner and her daughter Ann Kirchner lived a lifestyle filled with unhealthy choices. But in March of 2012, they decided to make a change. Together, they’ve embarked on a journey of surgical weight loss, lost over 200 pounds between the two of them and haven’t looked back.

When Joan, 67, and Ann, 43, decided they had enough of dealing with joint and other health problems because of their weight, they made a commitment to a new lifestyle. It’s one they’ve embraced and never want to return to their former selves—inside or out.

“I weighed 266 pounds. I didn't exercise, I ate a lot of fast food, I ate more than I should have, and I drank lots of soda,” says Joan. “I just didn't care.” Ann says she did the same things as her mother. “I tried to eat right. It was off and on. I did exercise off and on, trying to do the right thing, but I just couldn't get anything to stick,” she says. Ann, who at her highest weight was 332 pounds, described herself at the time as a work-a-holic, working 75 to 80 hours a week. She says she just got sucked into bad habits. “I think it was just easier. I’d say to myself, ‘Oh, I don't want to go home and make something. That's going to take too long. So I'll just stop and get something on the way home.’ Or ‘Well, it's going to take too long to pack my lunch.’ Those bad habits formed over many years.”

Joan reflects on her medical issues. “I had so many medical problems. It wasn't funny. I was a diabetic and on so many medications. I had back problems and knee problems. Now I don't have that. Now I'm off of all my medications, no longer a diabetic, and I'm just enjoying life now.

“I’ve Found The Real Me.”

One of those very enjoyable things to Joan is shopping. “I love to wander through stores. Before I'd wander for a couple of minutes, and I'd have to find a place to sit down. Now I wander for hours. I have great-grandchildren. I can get down on the floor and play with them now. I couldn't do that a couple of years ago, but now I can. Before I started doing the exercise and losing the weight, I was actually walking with a cane, and had to go down and get a handicap sticker because I couldn't walk from my parking place to my job without having a cane with me. I finally feel like I’ve found the real me. I love life!”

Before surgery, Ann also battled her demons of eating right and exercising. “I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol. Many a times, I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic. So I was on the border…I also battled depression. Ann says before her surgery, exercise was nonexistent for the most part. “It was off and on. I would do a couple of things, and I would give up because it was too hard, or at least I thought it was too hard.” Ann’s cupboards weren’t filled with nutritious staples, either. “Fast food was definitely a staple in my house. No fresh fruits and vegetables, no fish, no chicken, and I drank diet soda because I thought, ‘Okay, it's diet soda. That's okay,’ but it wasn't.”

Making The Decision

It was in April 2012 that Joan underwent surgery. “So I had the gastric band done, and I also wanted to have the sleeve done, but when I talked to Dr. Bradley Thaemert, he gave me the pros and cons, and after he told me what the cons were, we decided that the band would be the best option for me. I've had surgeries in my abdomen area, and he was afraid of a lot of scar tissue, which could complicate things, especially being diabetic and having the other medical problems I had. It’s worked out fabulous for me.”

And in March 2012, Ann had the gastric sleeve. “I also saw Dr. Thaemert, and he is very supportive. He was very direct with me. When I went in for my consult, he basically told me how it was. I mean, where I was at number-wise, I was not looking good. He did say that if I didn't have the surgery, chances are I probably would not have been able to lose the weight and keep it off on my own. When you get to a certain BMI, chances go way down of keeping it off. I decided on the sleeve because, for the type of person I am, I didn't know if I would get the results I was looking for by going through the band as fast as I wanted because, unfortunately, for me, I like that immediate gratification.”

A Lifestyle Change

Both women say they made the best choice for them and would do it all over again. Not that they plan on it. “I don't have to give up the things I love,” says Joan. “I make a choice as to what I want to eat and what I don't want to eat, and if I want to have that piece of candy or that piece of cake, that's my choice. I can still have it, but in moderation, and I've learned to modify what I want.” Ann agrees. “One thing we've done is if we find something I really really want, I try to modify it to bring down the calorie content or the fat grams. So we still feel like we're—you know, we're splurging, but it's within our range for the day of what we're supposed to have."

Embracing The Little Things

Since Ann had her surgery in March of 2012, she’s had quite a few aha moments. “I love to travel, and the one thing that always horrified me was having to get on that plane because I knew I couldn't fit in that seat and buckle that seatbelt without getting one of the seatbelt extenders. I recently just took a trip in January, and I was thrilled to get on that plane because I knew I would not have a problem, and I didn't. I actually had room left. So that was just an exhilarating experience just to sit there and not have to worry. I wish I had a tape measure because I wanted to know, “Okay, how much slack do I have left over?” but I know it was a water bottle and a half!” Ann says she also is able to do a few things many people take for granted. “I used to not be able to cross my legs, and I can do that now. Sit here and actually tie my shoe without putting it up on something.”

Joan says her biggest thrill is that she doesn't have to take my insulin any more. “I am no longer considered diabetic. I got rid of the bracelet that says I'm a diabetic, and all the insulin is gone. All the pills are gone, and I'm down to my very last pill that I'm taking, and I was on ten or twelve prescriptions plus 150 units of insulin every day.” Joan also says she’s really enjoying getting back to doing the things she loved when she was younger. “I wasn’t able to run…now I’m hitting that track again. I bet it’s been 30 years. And I'm looking at getting on a bicycle again because before I couldn't ride a bicycle. There was too much weight. I couldn't go around. But now I can do both of those things and I have the energy to do them.” Joan reflects on an excursion she took four or five months after her surgery. “I went shoe shopping with my daughter and my two grandchildren. One was 17, and one was 13, and I kept up with them all day long. I wouldn't have been able to do that before, and I think they were more exhausted than I was by the end of the day!”

A Daily Battle

Despite all the success, Ann admits she still battles on a daily basis. “One of the hardest things for me is when we do go out because I can't measure my food. To this day, I still measure. And when you go out, it's really hard because the portions are so much more than what we should be eating. I think that's one of my biggest challenges.” Joan agrees and says limiting herself is her biggest hardship. “I think, can I stop at one piece without sitting there and eating the whole bag? So I've learned to just take enough for that day to work with me so that I can't overeat, and just finding ways of helping myself not to overindulge.”

“Not A Fix-All”

Both Joan and Ann want to stress that surgery is not a fix-all. You have to want to change your lifestyle. The mother-daughter duo also stress they’re not on a diet. It’s a whole different outlook on life. “It's not a fix-all,” Joan says. “It's not going to fix the problems that you had before. If you don't make those changes in your life, then you're going to go right back. I mean, because even with my lap-band, I can overeat. I can stretch that little pouch, and I can overeat, and I can start to gain weight again.”

Ann agrees. “Anyone can out-eat these surgeries. You have to be—the way I like to do it is I have to be really diligent in what I'm doing because if I'm not staying diligent in watching what I'm eating, measuring my food, doing my exercise, I'm going to start slowly slipping back, and then I'll be right back to where I was at, and I don't want to go back.”

The two say their entire lives have changed since they took the leap and had their surgeries. Ann says, “I think for me, I'm actually liking who I am. That didn't used to be the case. I'm finding that I can self-motivate myself to do things, which I never would have done before. I think I'm reaching out a little bit more socially. I used to feel like I didn't fit in, and now I feel like I can fit into those social situations.” Joan says she feel like a different person as well. “Now I can do what the majority of people are doing. I love to go dancing. I'd like to do that again. But before, I wouldn't get down on the dance floor. I didn’t want people looking at me and thinking, ‘What's that big fat lady out there doing on the dance floor?’”

A Changed Relationship

Ann says their personal relationship has changed as well and the duo feel like they’re closer than ever. “I think we've gotten closer because going through this experience together, we talk a lot about what's working, what's not working. We hadn't been close to each other before. She lived some distance away, and now we actually live in the same house. We're both a good sounding board for each other, and I think it's nice because even though we had different procedures, we can still relate to what each of us is going through.” Ann jokes that the easy part was having the surgery. “It's what comes after the surgery…that’s when the real work begins.”

A Celebrated Success

But their hard work is paying off and the two have decided to celebrate. “We've actually been talking about maybe going on a cruise,” Ann says. “Yeah, it would probably be to Alaska,” Joan says. “We really want to wait until probably 2014 thought because we want to make sure that we're still pretty stable with our weight. We want to make sure our routine's pretty much locked down. I don't know if we're ready to go on a cruise yet just because we're still going through quite a few changes. But we know we’ll have a good time and the changes will continue. This is something we know we’ll have to work at every day for the rest of our lives.”