Growing up, Curtis Challenger got used to being “big-boned” and the “cute chubby kid.”
That mindset followed him into adulthood. He could eat a pack of Oreo® cookies, a bag of chips or two plates of his wife’s cooking with no problem.
Even when a nephrologist told him he was in Stage 3 kidney failure, the message didn't immediately hit home.
“I never thought it was important to lose weight,” he says. “Even as I got older, I didn’t think I was fat, I was just living. The meds I took weren’t for weight, just to help with kidney challenges."
He worked long hours at a stressful job, and his baggy shirt and jeans always fit fine. At least he wasn’t a candidate for the television series “My 600-pound Life,” he’d think to himself. But at his peak, Challenger was 407 pounds. And soon, he started to see just how much he had in common with the show’s subjects.
“I was telling myself the same lies, I had the same habits and I wasn’t making the changes necessary to not be a candidate to be on that series,” he says.
After a lot of procrastination and dire warnings from his doctors, Challenger reached out to Lowell General Hospital's Center for Weight Management and Bariatric Surgery and underwent gastric bypass surgery in 2017. Today he is down more than 150 pounds, walking regularly along Lowell’s Riverwalk, and enjoying an active, healthy life with his wife, Yline, and kids, Reychelle-Rose, 12, and Zwayne, 7.
But Challenger admits the surgery was only the beginning of his weight loss journey. The mental piece was more difficult, and he attributes his success to the center’s comprehensive follow-up program run by a team of nurses, dietitians and counselors that includes support groups, workshops and nutritional classes.
Dr. Michael Jiser, who performed Challenger’s surgery and has done approximately 2,500 such procedures, emphasizes to patients that surgery is the easy part.
“Long term success is dependent on diet and lifestyle change,” he says. “The more time patients spend educating themselves, utilizing support staff, and committing to habit change, the easier the process will be for them after surgery.
The Center for Weight Management and Bariatric Surgery is a comprehensive Center of Excellence and nationally accredited by the American College of Surgeons and American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, a designation that ensures patients receive a multidisciplinary program, not just a surgical procedure.
“We have a comprehensive program that is based on continuity,” says Melissa Harvey, a Nurse Practitioner with the center. “We have dieticians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners who have been here a long time. They have high standards and are devoted to these patients.”
Challenger’s brother had similar weight loss surgery in Connecticut where he had appointments in several different locations. He believes having access to a comprehensive program with consistent messaging was crucial for his continued success.
After having his surgery done by Dr. Michael Jiser, a surgeon with decades of experience and Medical Director of the center, he and his wife attended support groups, where patients share experiences and challenges. He also participated in classes like “My Hungry Head,” a six-week workshop that teaches individuals the difference between real hunger and “head hunger.”
“When you are addicted to a lifestyle and not aware of what you are going through, it takes over your mind and body,” he says. “I was living for me, and no one else. I was going to die for me, and I didn’t think about what I was going to leave behind.”
Not anymore. Still just 42, he has a new job that insists he keep his day to 8 hours. He has a protein shake for breakfast and brings fruit and yogurt to work. He still enjoys his wife’s Arubian cooking, but in smaller portions.
Challenger says he wouldn’t be here today without the care and comfort of his surgeon, and the staff support that got him through the toughest times.
“The entire team is amazing,” he says. “I love that they knew my name, and they were there to be of great assistance and learn more about me. Since this happened so many doors have opened, and my confidence is through the roof.”