"It was the best thing I ever did."
In her late thirties, Linda Sobalo started gaining weight.
"I was getting heavier and heavier, putting on five to ten pounds a year," she says. "I eventually got up to 256 pounds, and I'm only 5 feet, one-and-a-half inches tall.
"I was very uncomfortable as the weight piled on," the Billerica resident continues. "I was a nurse at the prison, always on my feet, and my knees started hurting me, I was having shortness of breath with some chest pain, and my bones were always aching. I also started having some depression, and I'm normally an up person."
Sobalo had tried various diets over the years, even losing 80 pounds once. Then she gained it all back.
"I couldn't stop eating," she admits. "I ate like a guy, a sumo wrestler. Instead of eating one sub, I'd have two."
The turning point came when she went to Disney World® with her then four-year-old granddaughter.
"I couldn't walk around the park or move like I wanted to," Sobalo says. "I was out of breath and my legs were killing me. I realized I had to do something."
One of Sobalo's co-workers had undergone gastric bypass surgery at Lowell General Hospital, performed by Michael Jiser, MD. Dr.Jiser started the bariatric surgery program at Lowell General Hospital in 2003 and is the medical director of its Center for Weight Management and Bariatric Surgery.
"I read up on him and he was very highly recommended," Sobalo says. She attended an introductory session at the Center, then decided to have the surgery herself in September 2003. She was 51.
"It was the best thing I ever did," she says. Today – ten years later – she has maintained a greater than 100-pound weight loss, and her aching joints, shortness of breath and chest pain have gone away.
"I feel so much more energetic," she continues. "I'm 62 and I can work 50 to 60 hours a week. Before, I was doing 40 hours a week and feeling exhausted."
"And I'm proud that I'm thinner; losing the weight, I feel attractive again," she adds. "I felt very unattractive when I was heavy."
Sobalo gives high marks to the support groups at the Center.
"I went to meetings every week for the first two or three years after my surgery," she says. "I made some nice friends and learned so much about how other people struggle with this disease [obesity]."
She also learned about making the right food choices. She eats only small meals, and avoids carbonated beverages and alcohol.
"I eat a lot of fish and very little bread," she says. "If I have steak, it's a small piece about half the size of my palm."
Sobalo may be one of the Center's most ardent fans. By her count, she has referred at least 40 other people to the Center for weight loss surgery — including her own daughter, who underwent a gastric banding procedure in 2010.
"The best outcome of this weight loss is, number one, how I feel," she says. "And second, that I've been able to help so many others when they saw my results, especially my daughter."