Alicia and Frank Norton, shown on the porch of their Guilford County home, have together lost just more than 200 pounds since having gastric sleeve weight-loss surgery within two weeks of each other at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst last year.
GREENSBORO – As Frank Norton’s weight crept up, so did his discomfort in airplanes. A furniture industry executive, he does a lot of traveling.
“I couldn’t remember the last time I sat in an airplane seat and didn’t need an extension,” he says.
The inconvenience of a tight airplane seat disappeared, along with a lot of other problems, after both Frank and his wife, Alicia, had gastric sleeve weight-loss surgery within two weeks of each other at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst last year.
“Now I can sleep in the middle seat,” Frank says. “I didn’t think there would be that much change.”
Beyond the irritations of travel discomfort, the frustrations of shopping for clothes that fit and the vexations of dieting failure, the Nortons had a more serious personal consideration about the effect their weight could have on their health – their two teenage sons, especially the younger boy, a special needs child.
“We very much have to think long-term,” says Alicia.
“They are very family-oriented, and I think because of their child’s situation, they made a commitment to each other to be healthier,” Dr. Washington says. “The concern about any inability to take care of him if they had ongoing health issues due to their weight was paramount in their making a lifestyle change, not only for themselves but for their child.”
Before the “life-changing event” of weight-loss surgery and follow-up (his description), Frank Norton was taking a statin drug for his cholesterol and had developed hip and knee pain that was sometimes so bad that he didn’t want to get out of bed. With Alicia, weight was an issue, but not so much that it had seriously begun to affect her health-wise.
Both had experienced the frustrations of yo-yo weight loss and gain dieting, and Frank even tried diet pills, quickly dropping 40 pounds before “hitting a wall” and gaining most of it back. Dieting had also been a frustrating experience for Alicia.
“Mine (weight) went up and down more than Frank’s,” she says. “It was so hard, so hard. I would gain it right back. We tried just about every diet they had.”
The Nortons started to consider weight-loss surgery during a family Thanksgiving meal a couple of years ago when they observed the greatly improved appearance of a relative they later learned had had a bariatric procedure.
“That’s when Alicia and I first talked about the possibility of weight-loss surgery,” Frank says. “We thought maybe we should think about doing this.”
Further investigation revealed that this relative wasn’t the only family member with the same kind of weight-loss experience. When the Nortons had their surgeries last fall (Alicia in late October and Frank in early November), they became the fourth and fifth members of their extended family to do so at Moore Regional. Another relative, they learned, had also had a weight-loss procedure but at a different hospital.
That’s not unusual, says Melissa Herman, LDN, R.D., program manager of FirstHealth’s weight-loss surgery program.
“We have multiple couples who have had surgery and often see extended family (cousins, siblings, etc.) pursue surgery after someone in their family does,” she says.
And the Nortons, she says, were “highly committed” to the program once they decided to participate in it.
By September of this year, Frank and Alicia Norton’s his-and-her weight loss totaled 201 pounds – 111 pounds for him and 90 pounds for her (including the 22 she lost while preparing for her surgery).
The weight is still coming off, so much so that the size 56 jacket that Frank had to have tailor-made because of the size of his stomach has become a relic of his closet. He brings it out occasionally to illustrate just how big (316 pounds at his greatest weight) he used to be.
“My waist is smaller than it was when I was 17,” he now can boast. “I can wear my son’s pants.”
Noting the “chemistry” change that weight-loss surgery has had on the bodies, the Nortons have made changes in their diet but none so dramatic that they crave any particular food.
“We ate pretty decently before, except for the amount we ate,” Frank says. “I don’t feel the least bit deprived. If we want to eat something, we eat it. You find the things that you like.”
And there’s been a certain amount of what Alicia describes as “falling off the wagon.”
“The good news is we don’t fall off the wagon at the same time,” she says.
The two have also resumed many of the physical activities they had enjoyed but cut back on or put on hold, like running, Frank’s “exercise of choice.”
Before his weight loss, he says, “I’d try to run 2 or 3 miles and it liked to kill me.”
With the pain in his joints gone, it’s not unusual for him to take a 3-mile run, bike for 30 or 40 minutes, and then swim for 30 minutes. He recently did his first 5K, finishing in the top 10 in his age group. He’s also down to a half-dose of his cholesterol medicine.
Alicia walks, runs and plays tennis. She’s also happier about joining her son in the pool they added beside their home in a rural part of Greensboro or in the water at their Cherry Grove beach house.
Pool time was more difficult for her before her surgery, especially when the family was being joined by company.
“You don’t want to put on your bathing suit when someone comes,” Alicia says.
Losing weight and improving their health was so important to the Nortons that they proceeded with it even after learning that their insurance wouldn’t cover the cost. They just took another approach.
“We saved up the money,” Frank says.
The FirstHealth Bariatric Center has been accredited as a comprehensive center under the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program (MBSAQIP), a joint program of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) and the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS). For more information about the program, visit www.NCWeightLossSurgery.org.