Weight Loss Surgery Foundation of America

Saving lives one grant at a time

Sarah Hallbrook

The WLSFA is happy to announce the recipient of our first reconstructive surgery grant, Sarah Halbrook.

Sarah was one of the people who organized the Las Vegas WLS Meet & Greet in February 2010, where the idea for the WLSFA came to be.

Sarah’s surgery will be done by Dr. Timothy Katzen, who was also a part of the Las Vegas Meet & Greet, and will be performing Sarah’s surgery.

The WLSFA could not think of anyone more deserving of this initial grant, Sarah’s journey has been well documented on her YouTube channel and she has truly been an inspiration to many other people who have had or have considered weight loss surgery.

Here is some background on Sarah, in her own words;

I was the only 4th grader that opened my lunch box to find nothing but a Slim-Fast shake. All of the other kids had peanut butter & jelly, nutty bars, and sodas. I’ve been heavy my whole life. I was the “fat kid” that got made fun of in grade school. I was the “fat girl” that all of the other high school kids were afraid of. Because I was big, the assumption was that I was capable of fighting. After I graduated high school, and got out on my own. I got even heavier. In my 20′s, I got close to 400 lbs. I don’t have a documented weight, because I stayed away from scales at all times.

I’ve been considered “obese” since I was in grade school. Later in life, I was “morbidly-obese”. Fat was all I knew, literally. I tried every fad diet you could imagine. In fact, I even had a short period of time where I tried losing weight very unhealthy ways. I was THAT desperate to get the weight off. I was tired of feeling horrible about myself. I was tired of all of the looks, the comments, and just plain feeling like crap. But at that point, I had SO much weight to lose, that I had just given up. I was going to let the food kill me. I thought for sure I’d never be “normal”.

I moved from St. Louis, Missouri to Central Arizona in 2006. I needed a lifestyle change. I was going to do anything I could to get this weight off. I was tired of carrying around all of this extra baggage. I wasn’t sure how it was going to happen, but I just *knew* somehow, some way, I’d get it off.

Once again, I started doing research on weight loss surgery. I read into it somewhat a couple years earlier, but didn’t do extensive research. Honestly, a couple years earlier, I had even convinced my best friend to NOT get weight loss surgery. I was very uneducated about the surgery, and was only going off of the “bad things” that I’ve always heard of it.

I found the WLS Community on YouTube, and became addicted to the before and afters. I became addicted to learning, and getting personal stories and insight from someone who had had gastric bypass and lap bad surgeries. I had come to realization that this was the route I needed to go. Now, it was just choosing which surgery was right for me. Neither surgery is better than the other. But I had come to the conclusion that I would benefit from gastric bypass (RNY) more so than lap band.

So I went to my primary doctor, and told her about my decision. She of course tried to convince me that I shouldn’t do it, but respected my wishes. She gave me an order to start the blood work. I took the piece of paper home, and set it down on top of my microwave. A couple of weeks went by, and I never got the blood work done. Which didn’t surprise me, because I had a HORRIBLE habit of starting projects, and never finishing them. This was getting added to that pile of stuff that I’d “get around to doing some day”.

A couple of weeks had gone by, and I got a call at work from my mom. She said my step-dad was unconscious, and she was taking him to the ER. I left work, and met her at the hospital. For 22 days, we sat at his bedside in the ICU waiting for him to wake up. Unconscious the whole time. Strokes, caused by meningitis. caused too much damage to his brain. The doctors told us if he were to wake up, he’d be a vegetable.

My step-dad always lived life to the fullest, and spent 90% of his life outside. He loved the outdoors, especially in Arizona. He loved hiking, camping, riding the quad, and exploring. So we knew that’s not how he’d want to live his life. On May 27, 2008 – we stood by his bed as he took his last breath. And all that kept running through my head was our very last conversation we had two days before he went into the hospital.

“Sarah, I know how much you want the weight off. I know how badly you want weight loss surgery, and I’ll do ANYTHING I can to help you get it. If I could afford to, I’d pay for it myself,” he told me. I can still see the seriousness and intensity on his face while he spoke those words.

I was responsible for putting together a photo collage of my step-dad for his memorial. While going through all of the pictures, I realized something. In this giant stack of pictures, there was only ONE photo of him that was taken indoors. The rest of the pictures were of him hiking, camping, exploring, sitting outside reading his Wall Street Journal on the patio, and just enjoying life…. outdoors. It made me realize how much of life I had really been missing out on. I was NOT living life to the fullest, I was merely existing. No goals, no plans, no motivation. The weight had kept me from doing all of those things. I was in too much pain, and just too tired to do any of those things. In that moment, I decided to change my life forever.

I grabbed that sheet of paper off of the top of the microwave, and I decided to get the ball rolling. I got my blood work done, and then it was all down hill from there. Several months, and several hoops to jump through for insurance purposes. I quit smoking cigarettes, after smoking for 13 years. I quit drinking soda and caffeine. I saw the nutritionist and the surgeon. After several months, I FINALLY got a surgery date…. that same day I got fired from my job. But I was not going to let that stop me from having RNY. I decided to cash out my 401K from that job and use it to pay for a few months of COBRA Insurance. I had my laproscopic gastric bypass surgery on March 12, 2009 at the Flagstaff Medical Center. Everything went completely smoothly, and I have had no complications since then.

My highest “recorded weight” at the beginning of this journey was 356 lbs. Day of surgery, I was 331.4 lbs. Today, I hang out in the low 160′s. That’s close to a total of 200 lbs lost. I haven’t been this “small” since grade school….. and, I cannot even begin to describe to you how AMAZING I feel. For the first time in my entire life… I am normal…. or close to normal anyways. I’m healthy, I’m happy, I’m active, I’m loving life…..But still not “normal”. I have ALOT of excess skin, that was holding 200 lbs of fat for SO many years. The skin is a daily reminder of where I’ve been. In a way, I look at it as battle scars. But at the same time, it’s very depressing as well.

I used to watch those WLS YouTube videos when I was sitting at 356 lbs, and I used to say “I’d MUCH rather have excess skin, than excess fat!!” I swore that skin would NOT be an issue for me. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of issues that have been caused by the excess skin that I didn’t even think about.

So I decided that reconstructive surgery will be my next step. I spoke with Dr. Katzen at the 2010 WLS YouTube Las Vegas Meet & Greet, and he gave me a free consultation. Even standing completely naked in front of a full length mirror, he made me feel 100% comfortable. He actually made me realize that it WILL be possible to feel (and look) normal after it’s all said and done. Now, all I need to do is find a job with benefits, and I’ll have reconstructive surgery….. But with the economy being the way it is, that’s been easier said than done.

The Weight Loss Surgery Foundation of America called me up last week, and informed me that they had voted me to be the first recipient of the reconstructive surgery that was donated to them by Dr. Katzen. I cried and cried (happy tears of course) when I got the news. My prayers had been answered. And I can NOT wait to feel 100% “normal” for the first time in my entire life. I’ve worked my butt off getting to where I am now, and don’t get me wrong, I’m LOVING it, and would not change my decision for anything. But this will definitely be the cherry on top of the ‘protein ice cream’ sundae.

Thank you to all of the fellow WLSers that have helped me on my journey. The support, advice, suggestions, and love I’ve received from all of you is WAY MORE than I could have ever imagined. I’m truly blessed.

18 Comments

  1. Congrats Sarah!!! I know you have worked very hard to get to this point!!

    I can’t wait to see what you look like after this surgery!!

    I’m so excited for you.

    Amy
    aka nature girl

  2. Words can’t deacribe what I’m feeling right now….I am sooooo very proud of you!!! Tears were flooding from my eyes as I read this story…you have came a long way and have worked very hard. I’m so thankful to have shared this journey with you…you deserve this!!! CONGRATS!!! Luv ya so much!!! Mom

  3. Sarah, I am just ecstatic for you!! I am writing this as I am wiping away my tears after reading this. The transformations we all go through are so incredibly life changing, as the second part of your surgery will surely be as well. Sending you all my love!!

  4. So, so happy for you Sarah! you so deserve this!

  5. Sarah,
    I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am for you!!! Reading your story took me back to my very own journey. I too have been heavy all of my life.. A shotputter on the High School Track team, and the one all the geeky kids ran to for protection eventho I never had a mean bone in my body.
    I weighed 348 lbs at 33 when I had my original RnY in 2000. I got down to 175 lbs in just one short year and was cleared by my surgeon to start trying to get pregnant. I had a hard time of it, miscarried, and finally got pg with my daughter in the summer of 2001. I had a great OB, but he wasn’t wls friendly and scared the bejeezus out of me with “If you don’t eat you will kill your baby!!” So I did and I did, and I did.
    Next thing I knew, it was 2008 and I had gained back 90 lbs of what I had lost. I went to a consultation with Dr. Wade Barker, the most wonderful sweet man on the planet. He said he could fix it and he did. I have been like you hovering between 155-165 lbs for a year now.
    Right after my daughter was born, and I had reached my out of pocket max on my insurance for the year I was lucky enoough to get approved for a panni and a breast lift. I had them done, and then proptly gained all that weight back.
    Now that I have lost it all again and have kept it off for a year, I have more loose skin on my tummy. But that isn’t the main issue. My thighs are ridiculous!! I have to by pants at least a size too large so my thigh skin fits. I can’t wear shorts, I can’t wear skirts without tights. I can’t run without beating myself to death with the skin on my lower back, thighs and arms. I cut myself under my arms when I shave my pits because the razor won’t fit right. I get rashes between my legs and big boils where my pants and underclothes rub.
    My current insurance company won’t cover the removal of this skin because they don’t see that it is medically necessary even with the rashes. They don’t consider the emotional damage and depression that this causes either. There is a specific statement in the policy that says depression and self image problems aren’t a consideration for coverage.
    I want to apply for one of the Grants from the Foundation also. I am sure there are people out there who are more deserving than I, but I figure I won’t know till I try.
    Good Luck with youe surgery!! I hope all goes smoothly. You are already beautiful, so after the surgery I know you will knoock’em dead!!!

    • Lizzy, Your story gives me hope! I weighed 354 at consultation, 296 at Open RNY surgery 4 years ago, and got down to 200. I stayed within 4 pounds up or down of 200 for about 2 years. I have now managed to regain 60 pounds. I’m very tired and depressed. Reading that you regained twice and lost it twice shows me that it CAN be done. God bless you for not giving up. If you can do it, I can do it. I sure hope you can get help so you can have the reconstructive surgery you need. You’ve worked very hard and you certainly deserve it.

  6. Sarah, I have been watching your vlogs forever! I love you and your honesty! A more worthy recipient I cannot think of! Keep us posted!

  7. Sarah,
    You are so awesome and I am so happy to see you be able to do the things you always wanted to. I can’t wait to see you again in Vegas! You are a worthy recipient and I wish you a safe and happy trip on this next stage of your journey :)

    Julie

  8. Sarah,
    You are so awesome and I am so happy to see you be able to do the things you always wanted to. I can’t wait to see you again in Vegas! You are a worthy recipient and I wish you a safe and happy trip on this next stage of your journey :)

    Julie

  9. Sara – CONGRATULATIONS!!! On being one of our grant recipients! Can’t wait to meet you in person in Vegas!

    And thank you for sharing your story!

    Marie

  10. Hi Sarah, I was so touched by your story and am so happy about the grant for reconstructive surgery. Wish you all the best!

  11. Sarah, I’m so excited for you. I pray that your surgery and recovery go well. I can only imagine how wonderful you will feel when you’re all healed and your skin actually fits your new, smaller body. Congratulations for being a recipient of the WLSFA grant. You very much deserve it.

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