"I never thought I could be this small again!"
"I had always been thin until I had my two kids," says Methuen resident Sheri Panas, 39. "Then I put on extra weight that I just couldn't lose. I felt like I was wearing a sumo wrestler suit and it was really uncomfortable."
She tried diet after diet.
"It would work for a little while, but as soon as I stopped dieting, the weight not only came back but I gained even more," she says. "I was wearing a size 22, I couldn't walk up a flight of stairs without being out of breath, and I had sleep apnea. I was at the end of my rope.
"I was afraid for my future," she adds. "There's diabetes in my family and I was headed in that direction with the extra weight. I knew I'd probably be on a needle and wasn't looking forward to it."
Her weight also troubled her children.
"They weren't trying to be mean, but they'd see their friends' moms and wonder why I couldn't participate in activities and events," Panas says. "We'd go to Canobie Lake Park and it was really uncomfortable trying to squeeze into the seats on the rides. And there was no way I was putting on a bathing suit and going to the beach."
Panas talked to her gynecologist; he referred her to an endocrinologist who ruled out a thyroid issue as the cause of her weight gain. She also saw a nutritionist who had her keep a food diary.
"The nutritionist said that she didn't understand why I was gaining weight because I knew what to eat," Panas relates.
In the meantime, Panas noticed that one of her coworkers was losing weight and looking great.
"She told me that she'd had Lap Band® surgery at Lowell General Hospital," she says. "I was skeptical about whether surgery would work for me since I was eating all the right things, but they said they could help me. And they were right."
Panas opted for a surgical procedure called a sleeve gastrectomy, performed on August 28, 2012. It involved removing a large portion of her stomach, reducing it to about 15 percent of its original size. This limits the amount of food she can eat and makes her feel full after eating smaller portions.
"They saved my life," she says of the team at the Center for Weight Management and Bariatric Surgery at Lowell General. In the year since her surgery, she's lost over 100 pounds and she no longer needs a CPAP machine for her sleep apnea.
But it's what she's gained that has her so happy.
"My quality of life has changed so much," Panas says. "Now I can do fun things with my family and not just come home after work exhausted and collapse on the couch. I have more energy, and can bounce around with them... I couldn't keep up with their schedules before."
She walks for exercise, and plans to get back to the gym this winter to rebuild muscle strength.
And one of the best outcomes, she says, is simply stepping on the scale and seeing the low numbers.
"It's great, walking into a store and heading to the rack with sizes 4 and 6," Panas says. "I can try them on and they fit and look good. I never thought I could be that small again!"