Heavy since elementary school, Sandra Aguirre's weight seesawed over the years. The death of an overweight friend was the catalyst that pushed Aguirre toward bariatric surgery in March. Now, as an advocate for bringing more attention to obesity and how to get and stay healthy, she will strap on a pair of comfy shoes and Walk From Obesity, an organized walk-a-thon on Sept. 1 in Campbell.
Anyone can participate in the walk, and those who have been touched by obesity—either by being overweight themselves or connected to a loved one who struggles with weight—is encouraged to join the event and support the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Foundation, which is hosting this event. It's the only walk to take place in Northern California.
"We all know how to lose weight; we've all done it. We can do it. But it's being able to stay on a program forever (that's difficult)," she says. "You gain it all back and then some."
While weight loss was always on her mind, Aguirre—who is the co-chair of the Campbell walk—got more serious about it when a friend died.
"A friend of mine passed away, and she was overweight and unhealthy because of it. She had two young kids, and that hit home with me," says the mother of two young children.
Another friend had the bariatric procedure, and was doing well, so Aguirre looked into it at Kaiser. She couldn't just have the surgery and come out model-thin though; it was a months-long preparation that included losing 44 pre-surgery pounds, attending nutrition classes, and a psychological evaluation.
She's lost 69 more pounds since the surgery and says the difference in how she feels before the weight loss is "like night and day." But the program doesn't stop at the operating room. Getting involved in support organizations is key to her maintenance, she says.
"They did surgery on my stomach, not my brain," Aguirre says.
Jim Haney, who was close to 600 pounds, diabetic and walked with a cane, is now 245 pounds after the procedure, non-diabetic and wears a fancy fedora.
"Having (vertical sleeve gastronomy) is not the easy way out. It's not cheating. It's also not as dangerous as people think. People hear about all these high death rates, it's simply not true," he says.
Food is around all the time; it's sustenance, so Aguirre's still learning to live with a new thought pattern about food and how to cope with those "weak moments."
"We celebrate with food, we comfort with food," she says. Now after the surgery, which removed 80 percent of her stomach with the remaining 20 percent shaped like a sleeve, she physically can't put a lot of food in her belly.
Over time she could stretch out her stomach again.
"It's not a magic bullet. It's still possible for you to eat around your surgery," Haney says.
But staying committed, Aguirre's stomach is now "shaped like a banana" instead of a football.
"It's a permanent change, as long as I respect it," she says.
The Walk From Obesity will kick off at 8 a.m. at the . Online registration is $25 and on-site registration is $35; children under the age of 12 are free with a paid parent or guardian. All participants receive a Walk From Obesity t-shirt and one-year membership to Obesity Action Coalition.
For more information on the walk, or to donate visit the Northern California chapter website of Walk From Obesity.
—Martin Towar contributed to this report.
Editor's note: The original posting of this article incorrectly described a portion of the procedure performed on Sandra Aguirre. The procedure removed 80 percent of her stomach, leaving the remaining 20 percent shaped like a sleeve. We apologize for any confusion.