They had battled with their weight both individually and as a couple for most their lives - but when it threatened their health and future, they knew something drastic had to be done. And that something, was Gastric bypass surgery.
The surgery is popularly associated with weight loss, however it is the health and wellness benefits, rather than the cosmetic changes, that can be achieved with holistic, multidisciplinary support that are the greatest benefits to be gained with this type of intervention.
“Before my gastric bypass surgery in August last year, I weighed close on 117kg while my husband was at 143kg before his surgery at the end of March this year, and we both suffered from hypertension.
"I never would have believed that within a year we could feel so energetic and healthy as we do now. In fact, we no longer have to take blood pressure medicine, as our hypertension has been resolved since the surgery,” says 53-year-old Cecilia Deetlefs of Warner Beach, KwaZulu-Natal.
“Aside from the hypertension, my husband was suffering from obstructive sleep apnoea and he also started experiencing problems with one of his knees, leading an orthopaedic surgeon to advise that he would soon have to have a knee replacement.”
Obstructive sleep apnoea is a condition whereby the muscles of an individual’s airway relax to such an extent during deep sleep that the airway becomes blocked. The condition is commonly associated with obesity and can cause the sufferer to feel fatigued and have difficulty concentrating during the day.
Thirty-three years ago, Cecilia and her husband Marthinus, now 58, both underwent vertical banded gastroplasty procedures whereby the size of the stomach is restricted with staples and synthetic mesh to reduce the volume it can accommodate.
“We have both battled with our weight for much of our lives, and initially we did lose weight following the operations all those years ago,” she recalls.
Over time, however, the synthetic mesh used in 1980s operation had caused excessive scarring to Cecilia’s stomach and this led to complications.
“I never felt really well after that operation, and neither of us could eat fish, chicken or meat. We learned to live with that, but as the years went by we started gaining weight again and this negatively affected other aspects of our health too.”
Last year, Cecilia began to feel extremely sick and was unable to eat anything. Her general practitioner referred her to specialist surgeon, Dr Gert du Toit, who found that scarring and fibrosis resulting from the synthetic mesh used in her operation over 30 years ago had caused stricture of her stomach.
He recommended a gastric bypass operation, during which he would be able to address the stricture.
“At first, I thought it was a strange suggestion to have a gastric bypass when I am unable to eat, and Dr Du Toit and I actually had a bit of a disagreement about it initially,” she recalls.
“Then he explained how the procedure works, and how it could help to rectify some of the issues resulting from my surgery all those years ago, as well as obesity-related health conditions, including the hypertension from which I suffered, and I decided to go ahead with the operation.
“A few months after the procedure, I was feeling so much better. My husband made an appointment with Dr Du Toit to investigate whether a gastric bypass could be a suitable option to help him address the health problems he was facing.”
Since their gastric bypass operations, Marthinus and Cecilia Deetlefs have lost 33kg and 49kg respectively.
In total, including the weight loss achieved from their pre-surgery diets, Cecilia has lost 57kg and Marthinus has lost 56Kg. She has achieved her goal weight of 68kg, while he aims to lose a further 15kg.
Cecilia says that she and her husband both have more vitality than they have had in years.
“I never dreamed that I could feel like this, I have so much energy now and I feel like I’m 16 years old again. We work for a waste and garden refuse removal service, and we are both finding great enjoyment in getting physically involved. We have also found that we do not crave sweet or fatty foods any longer.
"I never used to enjoy salad, but now I just love healthy, fresh food – and, at last, I have been able to eat protein again.
“Since having his gastric bypass, my husband’s weight loss has cured his sleep apnoea and he has no need for the breathing device he previously had to sleep with every night – he hardly even snores anymore, and no longer feels exhausted during the day.
"In addition, he has been told that he will not require a knee replacement any longer because there is now far less strain on his knees,” she relates.