How do I love thee? Let me count the pounds lost – Shaw Local

Like many couples, Susanna and James Ellexson of Bolingbrook feel the greatest gift to the other is the gift of self.

So, for their 25th anniversary on July 15, 2020, they decided to have less to give.

On July 13, 2020, Susanna and James both had weight-loss surgery at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox. At the time, each weighed about 400 pounds. As of Feb 8, Susanna weighed 204 pounds and James weighed 210.

Both had struggled with weight issues for most of their lives and both had tried various diets over the years, such as Weight Watchers, with little success. Susanna even tried prescription diet pills and only lost 5 pounds, she said.

Then one day, Susanna’s primary care physician suggested Susanna might attend a free informational meeting presented by the surgeons at BMI Surgery at Silver Cross. Susanna said she thought, “Do we keep on this way? Or do we try it?”

Susanna was afraid that if she didn’t try it, she would die. The couple has four children, ages 22, 19, 11 and 9. So when Susanna arrived home, she said to James, “Guess where we’re going Wednesday?”

And off they went.

Susanna’s story

Susanna said part of her problem was that she loves to eat and that “carbs were my primary food group.” McDonald’s staff would ask if she wanted “the usual” when they saw her, she said.

“Even when I tried to eat healthy, it’s hard when you have kids and you have a family,” Susana said. “And it was quite easy to go out to eat rather than prepare food at home.”

Susanna and James Ellexson of Bolingbrook both underwent weight-loss surgery hours apart on the same day in 2020, by the same surgeon at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox. Together have lost more than 350 pounds.

Over time, Susanna became “morbidly obese,” she said.

“I was not able … it was too painful for me to get from the parking lot into the store,” Susanna said. “I was slow; I couldn’t run with the kids. I was kind of watching my life pass by.”

James’ story

James said he had looked into weight-loss surgery 10 years ago and it was a long, long process at the time. In the middle of that process he changed jobs, which changed the insurance, which required him to begin the long process again.

“I was like, ‘Forget it,’” James said.

Susanna and James Ellexson of Bolingbrook both underwent weight-loss surgery hours apart on the same day in 2020, by the same surgeon at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox. Together have lost more than 350 pounds.

But the insurance in 2020 was different again, and it was 10 years later, when weight-loss surgery was an accepted option, he said.

“So we’re basically like, ‘OK, let’s try this and see what happens,’” James said. “And, obviously, we’re happy we did.”

The road to surgery

The couple decided on the gastric sleeve surgery, which would change both the size and shape of their stomachs. They had pulmonary, cardiac and psychological tests, and James also had a stress test and echocardiogram.

Both were healthy. James was on low-dose medicine for mild hypertension, which was stopped when he had the surgery, he said.

Susanna and James Ellexson of Bolingbrook both underwent weight-loss surgery hours apart on the same day in 2020, by the same surgeon at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox. Together have lost more than 350 pounds.

Dr. Christopher Joyce, who has since retired, and Dr. Brian Lahmann have performed more than 10,000 weight-loss surgeries at Silver Cross, according to a news release from the hospital. Theirs is the only program in Will County that has been named a Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program-accredited center and a Comprehensive and Blue Distinction Center for Bariatric Surgery, according to the release.

In the release, Joyce said the tests ensure the patients’ bodies can handle the surgery and rule out any issues that might undermine the surgery. In fact, surgery alone can result in patients gaining the weight back. So Silver Cross’ bariatric surgery care services include not just inpatient and post-operative care but outpatient follow-up and patient education, too.

“The surgery is just one facet of a multidisciplinary approach to changing their lifestyle,” Dr. Joyce said in the release.

Part of qualifying for the surgery means changing that lifestyle before the surgery.

So for two weeks before surgery, the couple drank a protein shake for breakfast and for lunch, and ate 5 ounces of protein and a quarter cup of vegetables for dinner, James said. He and Susanna each lost 20 pounds this way, he added. And they stuck to that required diet.

“It came to the point where we were going to do this,” James said. “I’d never had any kind of surgery before. And to allow someone to go in and cut out three-fourths of your stomach – we were going to follow the rules.”

The couple also began a vlog on Facebook – Ellexsons Adventure – to document their journey and keep them accountable, James said. This way, family and friends knew the depth of their commitment and how to support them, James said.

“Everyone has been very supportive,” James said. “And that helps.”

Susanna and James Ellexson of Bolingbrook both underwent weight-loss surgery hours apart on the same day in 2020, by the same surgeon at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox. Together have lost more than 350 pounds.

The new lifestyle

After surgery, Susanna and James stayed overnight at Silver Cross in separate rooms down the hall from each other. They followed a liquid diet for the first few weeks and gradually added 2 ounces of protein three times a day, followed by a small amount of vegetables and then an occasional piece of fruit. The fruit did slow their weight loss a bit, so they backed off fruit for a while, James said.

The couple also gradually moved from liquid food to pureed foods to soft foods, James said. Only decaffeinated tea and coffee were allowed in those early weeks, he added. To this day, the couple eats no sugar and very few carbohydrates, he said.

A high-protein diet is a must, so they don’t lose muscle mass, James said. The couple also takes special vitamins three times a day “for the rest of our lives,” James said. When dining out, the couple requests substitutions and/or splits portions, he said.

James, who loves watching cooking shows, adapts many of the recipes he sees, which even includes desserts, he said.

“We are more selective and intentional in what we’re eating,” James said, “instead of eating whatever is in front of us or what looks good.”

Susanna and James Ellexson of Bolingbrook both underwent weight-loss surgery hours apart on the same day in 2020, by the same surgeon at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox. Together have lost more than 350 pounds.

Susanna, who had successfull knee surgery in April 2021, now finds she loves to shop. James is looking forward to flying without a seat belt extender.

But for people who are considering weight-loss surgery, James said sticking to the program and following the rules is imperative for success. Weight-loss surgery makes it easier for a person to change habits, he said. But it doesn’t make them vanish, he said.

For instance, James said he recently went to Panera for lunch. Instead of ordering a sandwich (“And let’s face it, Panera bread is good,” James said), he ordered soup.

“And I didn’t get the noodle soup,” James said. “I got the broccoli cheese soup.”

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By Betty C. Giordano

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