Christine Price was 270 pounds and unhappy.
She was unhappy feeling out of sorts and out of place, tired of being held back by her weight and the self-doubt that came with it.
“Three of my best friends are tall and thin,” Price said, pausing for a moment. “They're perfect, and then here I'm the one who's like, ‘It is what it is.’”
She was unhappy with how she looked, how she felt.
“I was having cardiac issues,” said Price, who took a couple trips to the emergency room because of her weight. “I was having chest pain and a lot of shortness of breath, and then finally after being almost 40, I was like, ‘I've got to do something.’”
She paid a visit to Dr. Miguel del Mazo, a doctor at Longstreet Clinic’s Center for Weight Management and chose to have gastric sleeve surgery, which removed about 85% of Price’s stomach, forcing her body to change the way it digests and processes food.
It wasn’t a shortcut, simple solution or the easy way out.
“One of my pet peeves is nationwide we call this weight-loss surgery,” del Mazo said. “And I really hate that term because it's not a weight-loss surgery; this is a procedure we do to help people get healthy. … This is something that we do with the intent of someone getting healthier. And getting healthier isn't necessarily weighing less or seeing a smaller number on a scale. Mind, body and spirit are all part of this.”
After Price gave birth to her daughter, Sarah Grace Willis, now 17, she was never able to shake the extra weight from pregnancy. Then came her son, Kevin Michael Willis, 15, about a year-and-a-half later. Then came divorce and a new marriage
She tried dieting and had the familiar experience: She’d lose 8 pounds here and there only for it to come back time and again.
Finally, around 2015, she started thinking of alternate ways to lose the weight.
“I want to be able to see my kids graduate and have kids and get married,” Price said. “And I want to be able to enjoy life with my husband. And being fat, as I called myself, I couldn't do that.”
As 2020 settles in, she’s changed.
Since October 2018, when Price had the surgery, she has been dropping weight. As of the end of 2019, she’s lost 108 pounds — her goal was 100. Now she’s hoping to drop about 10 more pounds.
“I'm happier,” Price said. “I'm able to enjoy life. I wish I would have done this sooner. … I wish I would have done it 10 years ago, because then I would have been able to enjoy more things with my kids. I feel like I missed out on a lot of things when they were younger.”
Del Mazo said she was such a good candidate for the surgery because she started doing research on her own long before she went to see him. She looked at all of her options and settled on the surgical sleeve gastrectomy.
“She brings a great spirit,” del Mazo said. “She's got a lot of energy, and not everybody comes in with that amount of energy. But as she's had more opportunities to get healthier, she’s had more energy, and then she's reinvested that into herself. She's done a great job of taking the ball and running with it.”
Taking a ball and running with it is quite literally what she wanted to do. She can throw a football with Kevin Michael now. She can even go to Helen and ride the Georgia Mountain Coaster with him for his birthday, which she never could have done before the surgery.
She can wear Sarah Grace’s clothes.
“I went from wearing like a 3x to like a medium now,” Price said. “And then my jeans were like 18 to 22, and now I'm in a size, like, eight.”
Losing a significant amount of weight can not only change your waistline, it almost always changes your quality of life, too.
“It’s night and day,” said Keith Guernsey, who completed his own weight-loss journey several years ago. “It’s mind boggling. It’s hard to even put into words. Everything is better.”
Guernsey, who lives at Cresswind in Gainesville, took a different route to losing his weight than Price but said the mother of two is on track for some major quality of life improvements.
After gaining some unwanted weight after his second brain surgery in 1997, Guernsey exercised to knock the weight off and kept to a healthy diet. While he didn’t go through gastric sleeve surgery, his life changed completely when the 340 pounds started slowly falling off.
He’s at 181 pounds now, and a big part of his weight loss comes from portion control, something Price is focused on now, too.
“Back when I was 300 pounds, I’d eat a whole pizza and wash it down with a 6-pack of beer,” Guernsey said.
Now, he’s more conscious of his food choices and makes sure to exercise with his wife, Susan, beside him.
It wasn’t always easy for Guernsey and his more than two-decade weight loss journey. And it hasn’t been easy for Price, either.
Just like the yo-yo dieting she would cycle through before the surgery, though, there have been ups and downs through the weight loss. She’s had to learn how to eat all over again and can’t eat the things she used to love. Meal planning is a big part of her life now.
“You have to get your protein in first, then you have to eat your vegetables, then you eat your carbs at the end,” Price said. “I like mashed potatoes, but you've got to eat your chicken first, then your vegetables and then that.”
Holidays and football season are usually the worst.
“I cried,” Price said, laughing a little. “I'm not going to lie. After I had surgery, it was still football season. Every commercial is pizza, wings. I mean, come on. So I was literally sitting there with my husband and I said, ‘If I see another pizza commercial I'm literally going to cry. I went to the bathroom, came back and there was a Papa John's commercial. I literally stood there and cried, and I was like, ‘I just want pizza.’”
She said “for just a minute” she wondered if she had made a mistake in getting the surgery.
That thought went away quickly, though, because when she looks at herself, she knows “the way I look and the way I feel was all worth it,” she said.
Guernsey’s strict routine of exercise every morning and diet have been worth it, too.
“My life has improved,” Guernsey said. “When I was at 340, I didn’t think I would see 50 years old. Now, I’ve promised Susan … that we will live until 95 and we’ll dance at our 50th wedding anniversary.”
It’s worth it for many others, like Price, too. Between del Mazo and his partner, Dr. Robert Richard, they do about 650 of these surgeries each year.
“It's rare to have two surgeons doing that many cases in one practice,” del Mazo said. “So we're busy, and the cool thing is we could actually serve more patients.”
Price has continued to visit del Mazo for long-term follow-ups — an important part of the procedure. She’s also worked out consistently in the basement gym her husband, Mark, built for her and has continued to follow her diet of small, healthy portions.
And now, being active is much easier and actually fun for her. She’s planning her first 5K race, she likes to hike, kayak and simply be outdoors doing things she wasn’t able to enjoy 100-plus pounds ago.
“I wouldn't really change anything,” Price said. “I'm happy.”