“I turn 58 tomorrow,” he says. “Eventually, your body's going to give up, or sort of break down, carrying all this weight.”
He reached a point where his options were starkly defined when faced with a health reality that he couldn’t get around or postpone too long.
“I needed a pretty complicated hernia surgery that only some specialists could do,” he recalls. “The surgeon I found was honest and he said, ‘Listen, I need you to lose 100 pounds. That's not a made-up number. This is your BMI [at the time near 60], and this is what I need you to do. You can do it any way you can.’ It was basically like ‘don't come back until you lose the weight.’”
He had considered surgery in the past, but the hernia surgery inspired Charles to sign up for weight loss surgery immediately.
Though not all bariatric surgeons follow the same philosophy, Dr. McMillian is adamant that patients get on the program and show that they’re willing to work at losing their excess weight before having surgery.
“The insurance companies require a 3-month process in the program anyway, so if we're making them do that, yeah, why not? Why not prepare them with the eating plan? I think I have a different philosophy because I've been a bariatric surgery patient as well. And I know that if you do this, it works,” she says. “There aren't that many bariatric surgeons who have also been patients.”
The 3-month lead-up and post-surgical follow-up are all largely monitored and aided by the practice’s nutritionist, Rebecca Rand, whom Charles also expresses his deep gratitude toward.
“Rebecca's really been the main driver behind that [ongoing monitoring],” he says. “She has these wonderful things she sends you before the surgery; little quizzes about nutrition, different kinds of starches and proteins, things I've never known before.”
One quality displayed by everyone in the office that Charles emphasizes is one of acceptance.
“If I had to pick one word, it’d be ‘non-judgmental,’” he says. “And for a large person that's been judged their entire life, to me it’s made all the difference. When you go into health practices as a fat person, it feels like a sinner going to church, right? You're judged, you're sort of looked at, I don't care what people say. But at their practice, I never, ever felt judged.”
Shortly after Dr. McMillian began practicing bariatric surgery at Cooley Dickinson, she made a video for prospective patients that detailed her own experience as an overweight person and shared how she had benefited personally from weight loss surgery.
“That video came out while I was in the hospital recovering from my surgery,” says Charles. “After I watched it, I was like—I didn't even know that about her. I kept the video, I have it on my phone, actually.”
Charles says he isn’t at all surprised that she was able to achieve her own weight management goals, considering the resolve and optimism she inspires in her patients.
“She was my primary motivator,” he remembers. “If it wasn't for her, I don't think I would have done it.”
Dr. McMillian continues to see her patients regularly for follow-up appointments to monitor their progress.
“I see patients 2 weeks after surgery when they're on their liquid diet and then I advance them and we go over the eating plan,” she says. “They already know the plan, but we go over it in depth and make sure that they're going to follow it, and afterward, between myself and the dietitian we see them every month for the first year. After the first year, depending on how well they're doing, if they lost all their weight and they're stable for several months, I may see them every 2 or 3 months after that.”
Charles recalls a cathartic moment in Dr. McMillian’s office after his weight loss surgery that illustrates the dramatic difference between the body he had previously and the one he has now.
“I'm not a hypochondriac. I don't go to the doctor for every little thing. But I’d just had major surgery, and now I have this thing [a ‘symptom’ that he was mystified by], so I asked to be seen early. They got me in and she comes in and, and I show her, I'm like, ‘Hey, can you feel this?’ And she just sort of smiles and she says, ‘It's your sternum. You haven't felt it your entire life. And you're going to feel your ribs next.’ And I did. Oh my God, I can feel my ribs. I can feel my collarbone and my shoulder bones, you know, and I just had a sort of freakout moment.”
His dramatic weight loss also allowed him to have the hernia surgery that he needed, and now a couple months after that surgery he says he feels fantastic.
“He did extremely well, as he always does,” says Dr. McMillian. “I'm super proud of him and he feels the best he’s ever felt. He’s doesn’t have diabetes anymore. He’s off his blood pressure medications. He takes some vitamins, but I think that's it. He can cross his legs—he’d never been able to do that before, and… people don't know who he is,” she says with a laugh. “And he can go on those rides now.”
There’s at least one person out there who could not be happier about that.