We are one month into the new year, and some of those resolutions have already come and gone. Inc. Magazine conducted a survey of 2,000 people, and the No. 1 resolution for 2019 was to diet or eat healthier (71%), followed by No. 2, exercise more (65%), and No. 3, lose weight (54%).
How do we become healthier? It’s more than just physical exercise. According to the World Health Organization, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
So much of a person’s life plays into one’s health. It may be a genetic factor, a psychological occurrence dating back to childhood, stress from the job or family, depression, etc. All of these issues, and more, can put a toll on the body.
Obesity-related conditions include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that “the prevalence of obesity was 39.8% and affected about 93.3 million of U.S. adults in 2015-2016.”
Weight gain not only pays a toll on the body, but it also pays a toll on one’s bank account: “Americans spend north of $60 billion annually to try to lose pounds, on everything from paying for gym memberships and joining weight-loss programs to drinking diet soda,” confirms 2013 data supplied by Marketdata Enterprise, a market research firm that specializes in tracking niche industries.
So, how do we combat that? How do we make a change to better ourselves? Meet two individuals from Lancaster County who made that decision for themselves through weight loss surgery and joining a local gym.
Jason Lease: The Journey to My Health
Jason Lease is a big guy. Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 316 pounds, Jason could probably pass for a pro wrestler or NFL star.
“When Dr. Rosenberger and I had talked, he told me I’d get down to around 200 to 225, which is my goal weight. I kind of made a joke to him because I said, ‘Well, I think I was born at 215,’” Jason laughs. “I don’t ever remember being thin.”
Jason grew up just outside of Millersville and attended Penn Manor High School, participating in both football and wrestling. “When I was in high school, I weighed about 290 pounds. I was huge into wrestling and football, wrestling mainly. I wrestled heavyweight, that’s how I know what my weight was.”
After high school, Jason was hired by Harley-Davidson, where he continued to work for the next 24 years. He relocated to Georgia but eventually moved back to Lancaster in 2012. Then, in March 2016 at the age of 41, Jason had a massive (basal ganglia) stroke. “I woke up four days later in the hospital. I couldn’t really talk, couldn’t use my entire right side,” Jason says. “I spent a week and a half in the hospital, a couple months in rehab and then another year in outpatient rehab learning how to walk, talk and use my right side.”
A year before his stroke, Jason was diagnosed with diabetes, which triggered his stroke. Jason’s blood sugar was 997 (normal is 70-100), and his A1c level was 16.4% (normal is below 5.7%) the day he had his stroke.
“My neurologist said that he’s never seen anyone alive with that high of a blood sugar that lived. To this day, he says I’m his anomaly; he said I shouldn’t be alive,” Jason shares. “My blood pressure was 248 over 220 when I hit the hospital. My head should’ve popped off. My blood sugar was so thick; my blood was like molasses.”
However, this was not the first trauma-related event Jason had experienced. In 2006, Jason had a severe motorcycle accident and had to learn how to walk and talk again. Ten years later, he had his stroke. “I gave up. I said, ‘Whatever, I can’t do this.’ I pretty much told Sue [Jason’s wife], I don’t have it in me again. I can’t do this again. This will be the third time in my life I’m going to have to learn this again, and I said I was done.”
According to Jason and Sue, life for Jason was waking up to eat, falling asleep, waking up to eat, falling back asleep, day in and day out. “I was taking all this insulin and all these medicines, and I kept doing less and less. I wasn’t active. I wasn’t doing; I was just dying.”
Jason had gained almost 200 pounds from the date of his stroke. Then, he decided he was ready to make a change. “Right before surgery, I weighed 489 pounds. I wore a size 6X in T-shirts and a size 56 in pants.” He had attempted a bariatric program at one institution for a year, but because of complications, he decided to leave.
Driving past a billboard for UPMC Pinnacle, he looked over at Sue and told her to give “them” a call. “For my first actual visit, I met a male nurse. He comes in, and we go through this whole spiel for 25 minutes about what I want, what I’m going to do, how it’s going to work. And, I told him I’d like to meet the surgeon,” Jason says with a grin. “He said, ‘Oh, well, he’s here today. Let me get him.’ So, he left, and two minutes later, the same guy came back through the door and said, ‘Hi, how are you doing? I’m Dr. Rosenberger.’”
Jason prefers to call him Rosie. “His credentials are super hero because he’s mine. The whole staff here is just phenomenal.”
After receiving his clearances from various doctors and including his work from the previous bariatric program, Jason was “fast-tracked” and had gastric sleeve surgery on January 30, 2018.
By early December of 2018 – almost a year after his surgery – Jason has lost 176 pounds (he now wears XL T-shirts and a size 38 in pants). “My energy levels are through the roof. I have so much energy. I have so much more time because I’m not spending all my time eating. When I do cook, I try to cook healthier now. I look for healthier alternatives.”
Jason says he is also more active and enjoys walking as his form of exercise. He and Sue don’t patronize restaurants as often as they did before his surgery. He no longer suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure, underactive thyroid or chronic back pain. “It’s my journey to my health, and only I can do it. UPMC and the bariatric program here gave me all the tools I needed, and they’re still here.”
Danielle Gilmore, senior marketing and communications manager for UPMC Pinnacle, agrees by saying, “For someone who has struggled with obesity – and diet and exercise haven’t worked – they are not alone. More than 1 in 20 Americans over the age of 20 are morbidly obese, increasing their risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers, and keeping them from the happy and active life they deserve.”
The UPMC Pinnacle system as a whole has performed over 5,000 bariatric surgeries since the program began in 1998. Bariatric surgery is a comprehensive six-step process and includes a dedicated team of specialists. “We are here to support them through every phase of their weight loss journey. Our customizable programs are medically supervised and supported by a multi-disciplinary team of health care professionals, to help them achieve a healthier lifestyle, not just today, but for the years ahead,” Danielle says.
Not only does Jason praise the entire team at UPMC Pinnacle, but he also attributes his weight-loss success to Sue. “I could not have done this without the support of my wife because she took care of me before, during and after surgery. She never left my side in the hospital, and she took care of me when I got home as well. To this day, she still supports me 100% in living a healthy lifestyle, and I love her for that.”
Jason has made a huge change in his life and encourages others to do the same. He says he’s still a work in progress and will continue on his journey, as it’s part of his new lifestyle. “It’s the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. I wish I would’ve done it 20 years ago … I want to be healthy. I want to live.”
For more information about UPMC Pinnacle services, call 717-231-8900 or visit upmcpinnacle.com.
Tracy Coder: It’s A Commitment to My Health
The last thing Tracy Coder wanted to do was join a gym.
“I was like that 90% that’s afraid of the gym. I really was,” Tracy says. “I’m not going down there and running on a treadmill. That’s not me, but that doesn’t mean you can’t join a gym and do other things within the gym. There’s so much that you can do here.”
Tracy didn’t decide to become a gym member overnight. Like others, she was invited to give it a try by friends who were members of Universal Athletic Club (UAC). Actually, she had been visiting UAC, but it wasn’t for working out or exercising; she would visit for her nail appointments at Blu Spa & Salon.
“My nail technician got a job there. So, I would come in and out of the nail salon for a year, maybe a year and a half, and I’d see people working out,” Tracy shares, “but I knew there was no way that I was going to join a gym. I’m not coming to a gym because my knees hurt so bad. I can’t do cardio. I’m out of breath. I’m fatigued. How am I going to go down there and run on a treadmill?”
However, life for Tracy wasn’t always avoiding cardio or exercise. Prior to 2016, Tracy enjoyed running and was dieting by drinking shakes and juices. “I dropped inches and pounds.” But, then a string of unfortunate events started unraveling in her life. “I had a very stressful job as a preschool teacher.” By March she had become lazy due to the stress from her job. Then, her father died. “I put 40 pounds on within the course of a year and a half.”
Tracy felt miserable. She said she didn’t have the energy or desire to walk her dogs. She would ask others to do simple tasks for her so that she wouldn’t have to stand and move around, which caused her physical pain.
In 2017, she and her husband took a ski trip to Italy, but Tracy couldn’t even carry her own skis; she couldn’t go up and down the steps. “So, what am I supposed to do about this?” She tried the shakes and juices again, but that got her nowhere.
While visiting the salon at UAC one day, Tracy ran into Laurie Haines, who is the director of marketing for the facility. She spoke with Laurie about the possibility of joining the gym in some aspect but not through cardio or heavy workouts. Tracy then mentioned maybe she would like some information about the facility’s nutrition and wellness center.
“Laurie went and got me some pamphlets, and those pamphlets laid around for about six months,” Tracy laughs. “That was mid-June into December 2017. My husband and I had another ski trip planned at Lake Tahoe. I’m not ready for Lake Tahoe! I couldn’t ski in Italy, what makes me think I’ll ski in Lake Tahoe? So, I said, ‘Alright, I have to do something about this.’”
Tracy did decide to do something and made an appointment with the nutrition and wellness staff at Universal. She was given two days of consultation a week plus two nights of Thrive. Thrive is a program designed to build strength and help participants lose weight, reduce stress levels, protect joints from injury, improve flexibility, mobility, posture and more.
According to Universal’s website, the goal of the Thrive program is “to help you move like you were designed to move, all so you can train safely, intensely and effectively – for the best results of your life. Rather than having your workout being based around machines in which you sit, each Thrive session utilizes both traditional and state-of-the-art training equipment. But the focus isn’t on the equipment. It’s on your body: how you move and how you feel. And how you can get better every single workout.”
Tracy found herself in and out of the gym often. The lifestyle that she shares with her husband and friends wasn’t altered either. “We like to go boating and visit nice restaurants. Thrive taught me some nutritional skills. I wasn’t big on vegetables, fruits, or a fan of dairy. It’s all a part of my diet now,” she shares.
She’s become very mindful of her eating habits. “They say 80% of your weight loss is through your nutrition versus your exercise. The combination of the two of them is where I’ve done my best. I have to really focus on what I’m eating and be committed to Thrive, and I have been.”
Tracy has been in the Thrive program for nearly a year. She is proud to say that she’s lost 16 pounds and about 20 inches. “My goal at the beginning of February 2018 was to lose 20 pounds by the end of December. I didn’t lose all 20, and I’m not going to lose 4 pounds in two weeks. I’m realistic. Slow and steady wins the race. If I just starved myself, yeah, I could lose 20 pounds, easily. But, I didn’t do that. I did it the healthy way.”
She also finds herself having less back pain, leg pain, joint pain and other painful physical conditions. She gives accolades to her trainer Andrea Starsinic for helping her get back into shape.
“Andrea is great! I had carpal tunnel surgery, and even with bandages on, I was down there working out because she can adapt and moderate my exercise. … There’s a ton of support and encouragement there. This gym really is a family.”
Her journey’s not over yet. She finds herself improving and continuing to meet her goals. But, she agrees that it’s not always easy. “I push myself. It’s a commitment, but once you start doing it, it feels good.
“I’m not at the end of this journey at all, and I don’t think I ever will be. It’s a lifestyle. It takes a while to become a habit, and it’s not a habit for me yet,” she says. “So, there is no quitting. It’s a commitment and a struggle, but if you deny yourself the good things in life, then you’re going to be miserable coming to the gym. You definitely have to have a balance.”
Universal Athletic Club, 2323 Oregon Pike, Lancaster. Call 717-569-5396 or visit Universalathleticclub.com.