Liz Mitchell, 43
“When my doctor told me I might only have four or five months to live if I didn’t lose weight, I couldn’t believe it,” says Liz Mitchell, 43. “I was just so shocked.”
At her heaviest, Liz weighed 27 stone. “I can’t ever remember a time when I wasn’t big,” she says. “I was a big child, a big teenager. I can’t ever recall being skinny or slim.”
Liz beforeLiz, who is 5’6”, admits she had never really eaten particularly healthily. “I loved crisps, biscuits, fizzy drinks and junk food. Jammy dodgers were a particular favourite – if I had a nice hot cup of tea to go with them I could eat a whole packet. And I used to go to the chippy and to McDonalds. I always had big meals. I felt I didn’t have to answer to anyone so I could eat what I liked.”
Looking back, Liz feels she had become complacent about her weight. “Yes, I was heavy, but I wasn’t unduly bothered about it,” she says. “I tried various diets over the years but always used to pile the weight back on.”
“I used to think ‘I am what I am’. I swam regularly, I was happily married, we had our own home and a car. I was happy with my lot. A few things got me down. Buying clothes was horrible and flying was a nightmare. When I went on holiday with my husband and nephews, I’d spill over into their seats.”
“But although I didn’t feel particularly good about my appearance, I didn’t let it hinder me. I had everything I wanted. Life seemed perfect. I thought – what does it matter what I weigh?”
It was during a routine eye check however that an optician noticed Liz had swellings behind her eyes.
“Although I’d never suffered from the health problems often associated with obesity such as diabetes, I’d been getting constant headaches,” says Liz.
“It turned out they were being caused by pressure building up in my spinal fluid, which in turn was being pumped into my head. My GP told me the swelling would get worse and that unless I did something about my weight I’d be dead within four or five months. That was in the September. He said: ‘I’ll give you till February.’”
Shocked, Liz knew she had to take action. As dieting had never worked for her, she decided to opt for a gastric band instead.
Liz discussed the surgery in great detail with her husband Andrew and also with her nephews, known affectionately as her ‘little soldiers’. “They were 18 and 14 at the time. They said ‘if it will make you happy, go for it’. I showed them all about it on the internet and they were really supportive. If people believe in what you’re doing it makes it easier to do it.”
Liz afterLiz’s weight loss surgery was carried out on Valentine’s Day 2007 by specialist bariatric surgeon Professor David Kerrigan, now CEO of Phoenix Health.
“Professor Kerrigan is amazing,” says Liz. “He really made me feel I was important to him. In fact, the whole team was absolutely brilliant – they made me feel that I was the only patient they were caring for. I wasn’t worried about the surgery – my husband was more concerned than I was.”
Since having her gastric band fitted, Liz has lost 15 stone and now weighs 12st 2lbs. “I eat much more healthily now,” she says. “I might have a slice of toast with coffee for breakfast and pasta for lunch. I tend to eat fish rather than meat. I have smaller portions.”
Liz is at pains to stress she didn’t have the surgery out of vanity. “I was happy before,” she says. “It was more to do with my health. We paid for the surgery privately. I feel I’ve saved the NHS money in the long run. I would probably have gone on to develop diabetes and other weight related illnesses that would have required treatment.”
Liz has nothing but praise for the team at Phoenix Health. “They have been incredibly supportive,” she says. “Three years later and they are still there for me. I feel I can ring them at any time – it’s not like ‘you’ve had your op, now go away’.”
Liz also found charity support group wlsinfo, run by Ken Clare, really helpful. “They’re fantastic,” she says. “They are so informative and there’s always someone there to talk to. They’re very supportive of each other.”
“Life is brilliant now. I was a printer before but after the surgery I had so much more energy that I wanted to get off my feet and do something much more physical. So I got a new job with an occupational cleaning and hygiene firm. I love it – I have so much more confidence!
“Buying clothes is a pleasure – I feel positively skinny now in comparison. I can go into normal shops and I’m saving a fortune. A pair of jeans costs me £8 rather than £40. Even my feet have shrunk from a size 6 to a 5.”
Liz says she could never take her nephews to the park when she was big. “I was always so exhausted,” she says. “And I never used to go on rides at theme parks – I’d find an excuse to sit in a cafe. But these days I go on all the rides. Before, I thought I wouldn’t see my nephews grow up, but now I run rings round them.”
After she’d lost over 4½st, Liz and her husband renewed their wedding vows at the Little White Chapel in Las Vegas. “We originally got married in a registry office and it wasn’t the least bit glamorous – it didn’t feel like we were getting married at all,” says Liz. “So after I’d lost weight we renewed our vows and I wore a white wedding dress – we had the full works!
“I have a friend who weighs 10½st. One day for a joke I gave her a piggyback and thought – I used to carry that amount of weight around night and day – I have lost the equivalent of a whole person.”
“Having surgery was definitely the best decision I ever made.”