This story was originally published in the Fall 2021 edition of The Monitor.
Throughout their 22 years of marriage, Jennifer and Chris Boggs have shared many life experiences, and – for better or for worse – always tackle them side by side. When the idea of weight loss surgery was first discussed, it only seemed natural that they explore the option together. Little did they know, they would be embarking on one of their greatest adventures.
“It’s like we’re completely different people,” Jennifer said of their new lifestyle. “We explore every weekend; we’re happier, healthier. We’re absolutely not the same people we were a year ago.”
For years, Glouster residents Jennifer and Chris struggled to manage their weight through traditional methods. From commercial and self-guided diet plans, to exercise regimens and medications, they worked tirelessly to shed the pounds, always with little to show for their efforts. And while some of the plans would bring short-term results, lasting success remained elusive.
As time dragged on, the pair noticed the weight’s negative impact on their health. At age 39, Jennifer was pre-diabetic and fighting gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), while Chris, 40, struggled with high blood pressure, sleep apnea, high cholesterol and debilitating knee pain, a condition that affected his day-to-day life, as well as his job duties as an at-home healthcare provider.
“We felt like we had tried everything, like we had exhausted all of our options,” Jennifer recalled. “That’s when our primary care provider referred us to Dr. Custer and his team at Fairfield Medical Center.”
At the time of their referral, Jennifer and Chris weighed 355 pounds and 452 pounds, respectively.
Jennifer and Chris started their process by attending a free information seminar with FMC’s Bariatric Services Team, where they learned about the program, the disease journey of obesity, and the potential solutions offered by weight loss surgery.
“The information session was really helpful,” Chris said. “They reframed obesity in a way that made sense – the why behind it – and we left feeling like there was hope.”
Jennifer agreed that the new perspective was a welcome change of pace. “It was a relief to understand what was happening, why other weight loss methods didn’t work,” she said. “From the very beginning, there was no judgement from the team. We didn’t feel like we needed to be ashamed. That was a very different experience than we’d had with some other doctors.”
In June 2019, Jennifer took the life-changing step of scheduling an appointment to begin the consultation process. She met with bariatric surgeon Timothy Custer, MD, to discuss her options, and from there, the rest of the team worked to make sure her experience moved smoothly. While program and eligibility coordinators tracked documentation to make sure she met all her insurance requirements, Jennifer spent her time making sure she was well-prepared for the road ahead.
For six months, Jennifer focused on learning all she could in the program’s education classes, paying close attention to lessons from registered dietitian Emily Schmelzer on the basics of nutrition and how to best nourish her body – and soul – before and after surgery.
“Nutrition is an incredibly important part of long-term success,” explained Emily, who has played a key role in the bariatric program over the past four years. “Making sure you adopt those healthy habits is going to make a big difference in reaching your goals, so we definitely talk a lot about smart diet choices – but we also talk about goals beyond weight loss and embracing self-worth. It’s equally important for patients to know that they deserve to feel good, that they’re worthy of change and new opportunities.”
After completing her classes, Jennifer felt confident in her ability to take control of her health and was given the all-clear to move forward with her Roux-en-Y gastric bypass procedure.
“It was New Year’s Eve – Dec. 31, 2019 – when I had my surgery. I thought it would be the perfect start to the new year,” Jennifer said with a laugh. “Obviously, I had no idea what 2020 had in store for us, but it still felt like a fresh start to me.”
Meanwhile, Chris – who had also committed to changing his life and reclaiming his wellbeing – entered the program in October 2019. Following just three months behind his wife, Chris met with Dr. Custer, entered the program and enrolled in pre-surgical education classes, where he learned not only how to be a successful patient, but a successful support person as well.
“I think going through the process together made us both more successful,” Chris shared. “It helped me understand what she was going through, and by the time I had my surgery, she knew exactly what I was experiencing.”
Chris’s surgery was temporarily delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but in June 2020, he also underwent a Roux-en-Y gastric bypass procedure with Dr. Custer.
Just as Jennifer and Chris had supported each other before surgery, they found strength in their bond as they recovered and healed. They were patient with one another as they learned to navigate their new way of life. They offered support and encouragement to each other in the moments that felt overwhelming, and – most of all – they shared in the joy of countless successes and victories.
At first, the accomplishments were small, yet significant. Everyday tasks like putting on a pair of tennis shoes or going up and down the stairs to their bedroom became easier. As the weight loss continued, Jennifer found joy in purchasing clothes from new stores, browsing the racks and exploring her newfound style. She even had to resize her wedding ring. It was a reminder of how far she and Chris have come together, both in their weight loss journey and the beautiful life they share.
The biggest change of all, however, became evident in their sense of adventure. With more energy and improved mobility, the couple began to embrace a world of possibilities.
“If you would have told me a year ago that I would be biking 14 miles and kayaking, I would have told you that you were crazy,” Chris said. “But we love getting out and being active; since losing the weight, I’m much more open to trying new things.”
In addition to cycling and kayaking, the couple hike often, exploring new trails and parks across southeastern Ohio, and hit the gym more days than not. They even tried ziplining for the first time in July.
“We just have so much energy now,” Jennifer said. “It feels like we’re actually able to finally live life.”
To date, the couple has shed a combined total of more than 400 pounds, with Jennifer down 193 pounds and Chris losing 215 pounds and counting. While their results are both impressive and inspiring, the pair refuses to become complacent. Instead, they are focused on making even more progress and, above all else, maintaining their success. This proactive approach includes staying in touch with their team at FMC.
“You need that support from the staff to make it through this,” Chris shared. “Dr. Custer, Bethany, Emily, Angela and Elizabeth – they’re all fantastic. We would recommend them to anybody.”
The feeling, it seems, is mutual. When Emily Schmelzer, RD, met with her patients for a follow-up nutrition appointment, she couldn’t help but beam with excitement for the individuals sitting in front of her.
“When Jennifer and Chris came to see me, I was truly inspired by their success and just how much their lives have changed,” Emily said. “They are focused on living overall healthier lives, and they’re doing things that they never could before – they’re actually living their lives now. Their story has had an impact on me, too, and I’m just so proud of them.”
Most importantly, they’re proud of each other. The endless support Jennifer and Chris have offered one another has been a blessing and valuable tool in their process. And while their story has run the spectrum from rewarding to incredibly challenging, they agree that it’s been 100 percent worth the hard work that has become part of their daily lives.
“I always tell people that surgery helped us get here, but we did the work,” Jennifer said. “We’re still doing the work and making good choices; it’s a mindset that we’ll carry with us for the rest of our lives.”
Their advice to others is simple: Don’t let fear, uncertainty or anxiety hold you back. In fact, as far as the Boggs family is concerned, there is nothing in this world that’s worth compromising health or happiness.
“With the extra weight gone and our health conditions resolved, we might get to spend an extra 20 to 30 years together,” the couple said with a laugh. In this new chapter of their lives, Jennifer and Chris are grateful for the opportunity and strength to rewrite their own story – one full of adventure and a happy ending.
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