Paul's story: Gastric bypass surgery

Paul's much 'Leighter' thanks to weight loss surgery

How many 50-year olds can say that they are as fit and active as when they were 16? Well, Paul Leight from Liverpool can. This adrenaline junkie, who is addicted to mountain biking and outdoor pursuits, is on-top-of-the-world thanks to gastric bypass surgery and an almost 20 stone weight loss.

To look at him now, you’d never think that just a couple of years ago 14 stone (5 foot 9 inch) Paul Leight weighed in at 33 stone.

The life of this single dad-of-four was transformed in November 2008, thanks to weight loss surgery experts at the Spire Regency Hospital in Macclesfield.

Paul’s incentive to change came when healthcare professionals warned that his life was on the line if he didn’t lose weight.

This is his story of how he took the steps to a healthier happier life.

Paul's early career

Paul left school in 1976 aged 16 and joined the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in a prestigious position as a junior serviceman on detachment to The Guards. As a military man, he was fit and healthy and enjoyed life to the full. Leaving the armed forces in 1983 as a fully trained engineer, he worked in London and Liverpool, before moving to West Germany as an electronics engineer, which is where his weight problems began.

During his time in Germany, Paul lived in a hotel for two years, ate every meal in a restaurant and enjoyed a sedentary lifestyle. He was having such a fantastic time eating and drinking (a lot), that it was inevitable that weight would begin to pile on.

“I was drinking copious amounts of beer with my friends whilst abroad, so much so that during one beer festival, the restaurant actually ran out of beer,” says Paul.

However, living a carefree existence, Paul didn’t see there was a problem and, after two years, returned home to the UK to set up a successful TV and video repair business in Cheshire. For the next decade, Paul and his family went to live in Ayrshire and his health deteriorated rapidly as he continued to gain weight.

Health problems

At his heaviest, Paul was 33 stone in 2008. As a result, he developed high blood pressure and insulin-dependent diabetes, both of which were escalating. He also developed chest problems and sleep apnoea, which meant he had to wear a face mask plugged into a machine each night to help him breathe normally.

By this time, Paul was so ill the hospital said he shouldn’t go back to work. He says: “I moved home to Liverpool and registered with a GP. They sent me straight to hospital as an out-patient. I saw a chest specialist who basically told me I’d be lucky to see the week out.”

He tried to lose weight on his own, and did have some success using an exercise bike and by swimming, but he became very demoralised with the length of time it was taking to shift just a few pounds. Additionally, problems at home meant he was not in the right frame of mind to keep focused on weight loss. His attempts at exercising were halted when it became too dangerous to exercise. His blood pressure was getting too high, even when doing mild exercise. The advice from health professionals was to concentrate on lowering his blood pressure before starting to exercise again.

“I consider myself to be happy-go-lucky and a positive person” says Paul, “but I was terribly depressed. However, I put on a brave face because I had four kids to look after. I had to succeed. What made things worse was that I couldn’t shop for clothes because I was too big; I could never wear jeans and I had to wear 4XL shirts. I couldn’t bend down to tie my shoelaces. You pretend it doesn’t matter, but it really does. I couldn’t walk very far. I couldn’t go on a plane because I couldn’t fit in the seat. It was embarrassing. I couldn’t fit inside a car because of the size of my stomach. You tell yourself you’re happy with the way you are and construct a make-believe world around you, but then you get aggressive when people stare at you. I was always very self-conscious, very negative and, as a result, was drinking far too much.”

I couldn’t shop for clothes because I was too big. I couldn’t bend down to tie my shoelaces. You pretend it doesn’t matter, but it really does.

It was a vicious circle for Paul who was looking after his children alone at that point, some with medical problems of their own. During a visit to a leading weight-loss clinic in Liverpool, surgery was suggested to Paul, and he was asked to do some research into it. “I thought it was a reasonable option, although I was still very negative about everything. I thought why should the NHS pay for me? I believed that they should give the funding to someone more deserving. I had a quick look on the internet to see what my options were, and left it.”

Paul returned for another appointment at the weight loss clinic some time later and the doctor asked him again about whether he would consider surgery. They discussed the surgery in more detail and Paul agreed that the doctor could go ahead and apply for funding for him to undergo a gastric bypass. “I was quite cynical at the time, although my Doctor said I was a good candidate,” Paul states.

Choosing Spire Regency Hospital

Around three months later, Paul heard his funding had been approved. He was asked which hospital he wanted to attend and he chose the Spire Regency Hospital in Macclesfield “because of its lovely setting, cleanliness and out-of-city location which exceeded my expectations,” he enthuses. Throughout his stay at the hospital, Paul found the healthcare team to be very professional, keeping him fully informed about the procedure and looking after him very well, although, at the time, he was still very concerned about the operation. “I had huge reservations; I was worried what would happen to the children if something happened to me. But it was either have the operation or I was going to die of obesity. I knew that if I died during the operation, I would not know any different. This sounds selfish and harsh but it was this mind-set that enabled me to go through with the operation. That was the bottom line, and it worked.”

What kept him going as he entered theatre? It was the promise he’d made to his daughter Samantha that he’d buy a mountain bike once he’d recovered, to help him get fit and feel good about himself.

The Spire Regency Hospital in Macclesfield has made a name for itself in bariatric (weight loss) surgery over the years. Not only was it one of the first hospitals in the UK to win an NHS contract, but it has, so far, performed procedures on over 700 patients with obesity, both NHS and privately funded. And although weight loss surgery is considered high risk (because of accompanying weight-related illnesses including diabetes and heart disease), the hospital has a superb track record and excellent outcomes. In 20 years, the hospital has never had a reported case of hospital acquired MRSA bacteraemia.

Paul's surgeon

Paul’s two-hour operation was carried out by Mr. Bart Decadt MD, for whom Paul is full of praise and admiration. “He’s put years back on my life,” says Paul.

“Mr Decadt came over the day after my surgery, which was a Saturday. He had given up his family time to come and check on me. He genuinely cares about his patients, and he and the rest of the staff made me feel very well looked after.”

Paul recovered well in the days following his operation and painkillers helped get him back on his feet as quickly as possible. “I shuffled around,” he says, “and wanted to get back to normal as quickly as I could and get on with my life.”

Says Paul’s surgeon, Mr Bart Decadt: “Paul made an excellent recovery and it is amazing to see how he has embraced this opportunity and is now a different person. His philosophy on food and the way his family eat and think about food is inspiring.”

Weight Loss Surgery support

Paul is full of praise for his dieticians. When he was discharged from the Spire Regency, he was given a useful list of do’s and don’ts in terms of what he could eat and drink, and decided that he would use the information provided to work out the best plan for his own body which also fitted his new energetic lifestyle. He says: “The advice I received from the dieticians at the Spire Regency was invaluable. It was trial and error with certain foods but together we devised a bespoke plan of action that I still work with today. The dietician said to me, tell us what you want to eat and tell us what you want to do with your body and we’ll work the diet around you.”

“The first two months after surgery is strange,” says Paul. “You really have to get used to what you can and can’t eat, how your stomach feels and how to plan your nutritional requirements. Those that don’t lose weight or put weight back on have missed out on an opportunity. It’s mainly down to the individual to make this treatment work once they have had the operation.”

Spire Regency Hospital’s dietician, Zowie Wilde says: “My role within the bariatric team is to provide pre and post-operative dietary advice along with educating and supporting the bariatric patient throughout their weight loss journey, ensuring adequate nutritional status.

“The pre-operation diet is designed to promote surgical safety by reducing excess fat around the liver, helping to reduce the risk of bleeding during surgery.

“Following their operations, patients are reviewed on a regular basis for two years and then discharged back into GP care. During this time we will monitor the patient’s nutritional status by performing bloods test every six months. Appropriate nutritional supplements are recommended and these will vary depending on individual needs and the type of surgery performed.

“Post-bariatric surgery the diet gradually progresses from liquids to puree, then to soft food and onto a normal textured diet. The time taken or weaning process depends on the bariatric procedure performed and individual tolerance/ progress. During this period the stomach adjusts and healing takes place. All dietary advice is tailored to meet individual needs and requirements.

“We provide our patients with encouragement, motivation and commitment which is vital to help them during their weight loss journeys and to maintain healthy lifestyles and healthy eating habits.

“We are immensely proud of Paul Leight. He grasped the bariatric surgery opportunity with both hands and has used a combination of the post-operative advice we provided with his own research and hard work, to devise nutrition solutions that work for him. He’s a model patient.”

Paul’s life now?

“I bought the mountain bike as I promised my kids, and I recently completed a 36-kilometre ‘extreme’ black graded trail in the minimum recommended time of four hours – which is good going for a 50-year old! I look forward to each and every new day.” Now a dedicated mountain biker, “the best thing in the world, along with my kids” he says, Paul regularly takes part in gruelling long-distance bike challenges for himself and for charity. He also runs, mountain treks, swims, jet skis and is currently undertaking a new hobby…kayaking!

On a day-to-day basis Paul is able to do much more with his four children, aged between 12 and 26. “I can go to the fairground and enjoy the usual family activities, which I love. There’s so much I can do now and it affects both mine and my kids’ lives no end. I wake up bright and early and ready for action at 6.00am each day and stay awake for as long as possible, and I owe it all to Mr Decadt and Spire Regency. I now weigh 14 stone and I am very happy. It’s changed my life beyond my wildest dreams; I am now extremely fit, I’m on no medication whatsoever. Even my diabetes is in remission,” he says proudly.

Quite often, patients who have undergone weight loss surgery can suffer from excess skin but not so in Paul’s case. “My skin is shrinking back because I’m exercising. I did have some, but it’s almost gone now.”

What are Paul’s top tips for others struggling with their weight?

“Exercise, exercise and more exercise,” he says. “I despair when I see people at the supermarket stuffing their trolleys full of cakes, biscuits and processed foods. You really don’t need to eat that junk. It’s absolutely no good for you,” he adds. “Exercise and a healthy, balanced and natural diet is the key to happiness!” he says, “don’t kid yourself about weight gain, don’t make excuses for it and remember that surgery is the last option.”

Paul is very vocal about gender differences in food choices, food education and gender discrimination in the diet industry. He says: “It’s almost ‘un-macho’ to be healthy. Also, there is a real pressure in society for males to eat junk, and diet and healthy eating food products are geared towards women. Everything healthy is angled towards women.”

Before having the operation, Paul didn’t know of any other men who’d had the surgery and would have welcomed the chance to talk to others before he went under the knife. “I would love to help and advise other obese people who are contemplating the surgery that I’ve had. I’m very proactive and I’m looking to get involved with help groups at the Spire Regency so I can tell others what I’ve learned from my own experiences, how I’ve been able to cope, how the surgery is going to affect people’s lives and how they can live after the operation. Invaluable information!”

As someone who can talk about dramatic weight loss and changing your eating habits and lifestyle for good, in the future he wants to reach out to people to see if he can help.

He says that people must be aware that surgery is not the ‘cure’; they have to work hard to get themselves better by developing healthy eating habits and being aware of their limitations. “I’ve known people who’ve liquidised roast dinners because they didn’t know what else to do,” says Paul.

He now treats himself like a new baby, being careful about what he eats (he avoids sugar like the plague) and has decided that if he can’t eat large meals, he will have the best quality available and in terms of meat, Paul only eats chicken. As a diabetic, he has to be totally in control of what he eats and makes his own snacks to fuel his active lifestyle. “I have never felt so alive. Every day is a new challenge and I can’t wait until tomorrow.” The surgery hasn’t affected his social life especially when eating out, he’s just very careful about what he orders and remembers portion control and the recommended ratios of protein, carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables and fat (although he cannot stomach fatty foods). Now a wine connoisseur, Paul still enjoys a drink, but just has a glass of fine wine instead of a bottle. “It’s all about quality, not quantity,” he jokes.

Life changing

“My weight loss has changed my life but hasn’t become my sole obsession. It’s a learning curve because you have to change your eating habits for the rest of your life and learn what’s good for you. It horrifies me when I look back and think of what and how much we were eating as a family. We were brought up in a traditional household. No-one educated us about food and nutrition – something that is still lacking today. You have to go out there and find out what is good for you. I’ve had to do extra work on my diet and nutrition because of my diabetes but it’s the job of every adult to look after their nutritional needs and those of anyone dependent on them.

My weight loss has changed my life.

“As a family we’ve all reaped the benefits of this surgery. We’re struggling a bit with my12-year old son and his food choices as pressures of society make him and millions of other schoolchildren predisposed to disliking vegetables. It’s just not cool. But we do what we can.

“My youngest daughter Samantha, who is a healthy and very fit size 14, joins me on my adrenaline fuelled mountain bike treks. We’re on the exercise mission together.

“Not only have I got my life back, but the NHS has saved itself a fortune in medication and other equipment that was keeping me alive. The amount of medication that I was taking on a daily basis was phenomenal. I was on insulin four times a day for type two diabetes; in my house I had blood testing equipment that had to be maintained by a hospital, three different tablets for hypertension and cholesterol tablets.

“The result of the surgery and weight loss is a happy healthy person who is able to function in society and look after his family. What better outcome can there be?”

Paul continues: “It’s really important for others to understand that weight loss surgery options provided by experts at the Spire Regency in Macclesfield are helping to change people’s lives for the better. The surgery has given me a chance to live a healthy, active life. You usually only get one chance at life but, in my case, Mr Decadt at the Spire Regency has given me a second chance, and I intend to make the most of it.”

It’s not just Paul who has benefited by bariatric surgery at the Spire Regency Hospital. Paul’s eldest daughter also had surgery in November 2010 and is seeing the weight come off healthily.

Says Paul: “My daughter Sarah-Jane has suffered with medical conditions all her life. When we were living in Scotland the weight started to pile on. She was comfort eating. I told Mr Decadt of her situation and the wheels were put in motion for her operation. It’s given her a better quality of life.”

What does the future have in store for Paul? With his career as a successful inventor and entrepreneur taking off, the only job now is to maintain a healthy weight and make sure that he eats enough calories to fuel his exhilarating lifestyle. “I really cannot tell you how good I feel,” he says. “I recently cycled 44kms in three hours which took me up and down mountains; I’m in the fresh air, camping on the shores of a lake.

“The surgery has changed my life more than I ever thought possible. The results from the surgery and weight loss that have followed over the last couple of years encouraged me to take up a very active lifestyle. This is what has contributed to my overall weight loss and current body shape.”