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The Long-term Consequences of WLS - Rich & Heather's Story

My name is Rich, but I may be better known to some of you as richie79 of the UK who used to post prolifically here on Big Fat Blog and elsewhere in the Fatosphere for many years. Don't know if any of the old faces are still around but I wanted to share my wife Heather's story and felt this was maybe as good as any a place do it. If you believe otherwise, please let me know and I'll remove it.

In February 2005 a pretty girl with big brown eyes by the screen name of 'sweetheather86' sent me a 'smile' through a plus-size dating website of which we were both members. At the time I was at a low point following the failure of a previous long-term relationship. Heather and I hit it off almost immediately despite her being in the US and at 18, almost 7 years younger than I. Looking forward to daily emails from one another quickly progressed to a first nervous long-distance phonecall, nightly 4-hour chat sessions on MSN and before either of us knew it I'd booked a ticket to Boston. Two incredible weeks on from our first shy meeting at Logan Airport I knew this was the one person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

The only cloud on the horizon was the gastric bypass Heather underwent just two weeks after we first made contact. Even then I knew of the horrendous risks of these operations but although I had already fallen for her, didn't feel i knew her well enough to ask her to delay or reconsider it. She came from a long line of big women and had herself been fat throughout childhood, resulting in numerous failed diets and all the bullying and self-loathing that accompanies being a fat child / teen. At the time the media was full of stories of this 'magic bullet' and several of her family members had undergone the surgery with dramatic initial results. She told me that she wanted it done so that she could have all the things in life she had been convinced were not available to people of her size - someone to love her, a home and a family, access to nice clothes, and not to be abused and harassed in public. Tragically she later told me that she opted for the bypass as unlike the lap-band it was irreversible (the stomach is cut in two and 18" of small intestine removed and discarded) and therefore offered no opportunity to back out at a later stage.

Our relationship continued to blossom even as her health began to deteriorate. Each of us crossed the Atlantic to spend long periods together in one another's countries and during this time we crammed in as many activities, visits etc as many couples do in a lifetime. In September 2007 I proposed to her and she accepted tearfully and without hesitation; we were married two years later almost to the day and having obtained a spousal visa, in July 2010 she finally moved to Leeds in the UK to live with me full-time. By this point she had lost around 200lb and gained back almost 100lb of that. She was on a cocktail of drugs, could eat very little, suffered from constant dumping syndrome and was developing problems with joint pain, blood sugar and constant fatigue, all of which were exacerbated by a revision to the original surgery to repair the staples but which further reduced the range of foods she was able to eat.

In October 2010 Heather gave me the news that she was pregnant. Our joy at this was tempered only by concerns about her deteriorating health. Fortunately apart from having to be artificially rehydrated several times (she suffered from such debilitating nausea throughout the pregnancy that she was at times unable to keep down fluids) her pregnancy passed largely without serious incident. Our son Ben was born in June the following year; despite several attempts to induce her at term plus two weeks she never progressed to active labour and had to undergo an emergency Caesarean section on one of the hottest days of the year in an overwhelmed Leeds General Infirmary where she was treated like an inconvenience by several of the medical staff.

Her surgeon in the US had recommended a UK counterpart in our city who might have been able to help but NHS rules decreed she would first have to see a dietician. As was often the case I went along with her as she was rightly worried that this would be used as yet another opportunity to shame her about her weight; predictably the dietician told her that on her sub-1000 caloric intake it was 'impossible' for her to be maintaining at 320lb and that there must be something she wasn't telling her (because *everyone knows* that fat people always lie about their eating habits). This was followed up by a barium swallow which suggested she may be suffering from a stricture (narrowing) of the digestive tract and the prospect of further investigation, though subsequent events meant this never ultimately took place.

On the weekend of 8th February 2013 I went to visit friends in another city an hour away from home. Heather had encouraged this rare weekend away, as we took it in turns to give one another breaks from the stresses of young parenthood when possible. She waved me off at the train station with hugs and kisses and called to tell me goodnight later that evening. That would be the last time I ever heard from her. My attempts to contact via text and phone throughout Saturday went unanswered and, knowing how out of character this was, my friend drove me home. Unable to gain access to the house, which she'd locked from within the previous night, I frantically called the police, who broke in through our basement and found her collapsed in our bathroom. I was told that she'd been gone for some hours. Our little one was fortunately still upstairs in his crib and none the worse but for need of a clean diaper, a good feed and a cuddle.

Initially we thought the cause may have been related to a persistent headache she'd been complaining of but which her doctor had failed to take seriously. The results of the post-mortem however showed the truth to be far worse. Unbeknown to anyone she'd developed a fistula at the site of the gastric bypass surgery. This had suddenly ruptured causing, as the report put it 'destruction of chest cavity and diaphragm through discharge of gastric material'. I don't even want to imagine the discomfort my poor sweet girl likely suffered in her last hours, or to think that the surgery on which she'd once pinned her hopes of acceptance (and subsequently come to regret when she realised that her happiness was not weight-dependent) had been a ticking timebomb from the very outset of our relationship.

Heather was without a doubt one of the sweetest, kindest, most loving people I have ever had the privilege to know. In a world beset with so much cruelty and unpleasantness she was a revelation of tolerance and humanity. For the first time in my 33 years she made me comfortable in my own skin, gave me confidence to be myself and become a stronger person through my recent diagnosis with Asperger's Syndrome, a strength that only left me two Saturdays ago. Our long-distance relationship was forged in patience and anticipation of better days ahead, giving us a depth of connection that is all too rare and making us soul mates in every sense of the word. Heather loved me for my differences and quirks rather than despite them, as I loved hers and trusted her implicitly. In turn she told me that my unconditional love for her had finally given her the contentment and safety she craved when so much of her life had been marked by pain and unhappiness. She often said 'I'll always be your girl', over the years it became our little refrain that she would add to the bottom of cards and emails and tell me last thing at night. My life, Ben's life, those of all who knew her and the world at large will be all the poorer for her absence from them. Rest in peace forever sweetheart, know no more pain or torment, and I'll be counting the days till I'm back at your side.

(Cross-posted as 'Rich & Heather - Love Can Bridge an Ocean' to 'First Do No Harm' blog at www.fathealth.wordpress.com, WLS Uncensored Yahoo group and my personal FB page).

NWSA 2013 Fat Studies Interest Group Call for Papers |

fatthought February 24th, 2013 | Link | Rich and Heather

Rich, I hadn't posted here for a while, but then I read this on Facebook. I am so very sorry to hear about what happened. I was so happy for you two, and I am so glad you had the time together that you did. I just wish Heather had known that she could have a happy, fulfilling life without WLS.

Thanks for telling the story. I am sure that Heather would be happy to know that you did so.

Hugs, Frannie

lildee's picture
lildee
July 9th, 2013 | Link | tragedy

so so sorry Richie for this unspeakable heartbreak!
I had a lap band installed almost two years ago. There are all sorts of problems that the medical community doesn't really tell us about. I lost maybe 50 lbs, then gained a few back and now am fighting with my diet again, same as always.
I am sick to death of all the bullshit that goes on in the name of being thin. who cares. what the hell. People are people , no matter what.
I live in Italy now (from NY) and I get stared at a lot. Not a lot of obesity in the land of pasta and bread, go figure. We Americans are doing something wrong.
Be strong, my friend!

SuzyBear's picture
SuzyBear
February 24th, 2013 | Link | My condolences, Rich.

My condolences, Rich.

BigLiberty's picture
BigLiberty
February 24th, 2013 | Link | I'm so, so sorry, Richie. I

I'm so, so sorry, Richie. I know I stated this on the First Do No Harm blog where this is crossposted, but please feel free to send me a note on email or however else you like if you ever want or need to chat.

pocomommy February 25th, 2013 | Link | Oh Richie. I am so sorry.

Oh Richie. I am so sorry. There are no words to express my sadness and rage for your loss.

Natalie February 25th, 2013 | Link | I am so, so, so sorry. This

I am so, so, so sorry. This breaks my heart.

worrier February 25th, 2013 | Link | I can only try to imagine

I can only try to imagine the hell you're going through. I want to say words of comfort, but there isn't a great deal of comfort to find in what you and Heather have been through. You do have your precious son. I've found sometimes that all I've been able to do when things have been very bad is fight on, and hang on until I can cope better. So that's all I can think of to say, fight on, and hang on. Say hi to Ben from me, Jenny.

Moody Blue's picture
Moody Blue
February 25th, 2013 | Link | I am so very sorry for your

I am so very sorry for your loss, Richie. I kind of pop in and out of this forum but have always enjoyed your posts and the intelligence and sensitivity behind them. I remember you expressing how nervous you were at the prospect of becoming a parent and I commented that after reading all your posts that you would make a wonderful dad. My doctor has been trying for years to convince me to do gastric bypass, even though my health is pretty good and my blood pressure and sugar levels are normal. (I do have fibromyalgia, but that's another ball of wax that they haven't blamed on OBESITY yet.) I absolutely refuse to accept his advice on this and I am tempted to bring in your post next time and pin it to his bulletin board. Please accept my condolences and I pray that memories of your time together will be a source of comfort to you. God bless.
Janice

strawberry February 25th, 2013 | Link | Richie, reading your

Richie, reading your heartrending post filled me with tears and rage. Makes me want to burn a bonfire of trolls in Heather's honor. Are people killed for "merely" being fat? You betcha. Let your story be a cautionary tale to others considering similar self-mutilation, and let us commemorate by spending a few "sanity points" and insulting some trolls somewhere. Loving hugs to you and little Ben.

moxie3's picture
moxie3
February 25th, 2013 | Link | So sorry Richie

I'm very sorry and shocked to hear of this Richie. I can't imagine what you are going through. I've been at this site for a few years but you have always been one of the people who I've enjoyed reading comments from and have learned things also about FA.

Selfishly of course I worry as I am one of those people like your wife who felt so much pressure to have RNY not necessarily realizing the risks involved. It's a sad time when we do these things to ourselves just to feel "normal" for a short time.

Anyway your blessing is your son and how you will always see her in his eyes.

chondros February 28th, 2013 | Link | Richie, I'm sorry. This is

Richie, I'm sorry. This is terrible beyond words. Like the others here, I've loved your posts and comments on this blog. My heart goes out to you, and I wish I knew how to say or do something to ease your pain. I do know that I will tell this story to anyone I meet who's considering WLS.

Bilt4Cmfrt's picture
Bilt4Cmfrt
March 1st, 2013 | Link | Oh God, Richie! I haven't

Oh God, Richie! I haven't been active on BFB for quite a long time. We go where life takes us and I am so, so, so very sorry that it's taken you and your family in this direction. I recall your posts regarding your and Heathers Across-the-Pond connection and the announcement of your bonding. I remember it with fondness before drifting away from the Blog. Learning, now, of the birth of your son and Heathers passing is both joyous and agonizing.

I can't help but think about the parallels between us; meeting ur significant others online, overcoming the difficulties of a long distance relationship because it's more than worth it. It's the best thing that's ever happened to you. Then it gets better and theres nothing you can do but make it permanent. My wife had Rou-en-y several months before I'd met her and we suffered through the Dumping Syndrome, food intolerances, and the vitamin deficiencies. I've done more research into this thing than I have with anything in my entire life. And it's given me an appreciation of how lucky we are that things aren't worse. Much worse. And I still worry. Even now, problems pop up that might well have never occurred had she not had the surgery. Things could still go very, very, wrong and we will be dealing with the repercussions of this 'beneficial procedure' for the rest of her life.

As, I'm sure you experienced, all of this has also given me an appreciation of just how ignorant the Medical Science community is. How greedy, and EXACTLY how fucked up societies attitudes toward fat people are. That this insanity could, not only be sanctioned, but is encouraged in the name of 'health'. It's the main reason why I got so deeply involved in Fat Acceptance and why I remain so committed to it.

During my, often fiery, learning period at BFB, your posts, your experiences, your relationship joys and woes, resonated with mine in so many different ways, I often found myself thinking about you and others at BFB even after being away for so long. In fact, if anyone were ever to ask, I'd have to say that you have been one of very few people I've interacted with online over the course of years, who I might call a friend. I desperately wish that you and your son could have been spared this lose.

If there is anything I can do to help the both of you now, I hope you know I can be counted on. And having known the depth of compassion and openness that has always existed at BFB I'm sure many there would echo the same. Please give my condolences to your family both here and in the UK. Also know that you do not grieve alone.

Strength and Peace.
Paul

Keechypeachy March 6th, 2013 | Link | I'm crying for you both and

I'm crying for you both and for little Ben who will miss growing up knowing his sweet mother in person. What a tragedy, and all the more so because it was so unnecessary.

Alyssa March 10th, 2013 | Link | Condolences

Riche,
Words are inadequate. I am sorry for your loss. Thank you for posting this. It is a reminder to all of us who continue to be bullied by the fat-hating medical profession that WLS is never an option.

Viola's picture
Viola
March 21st, 2013 | Link | Oh Rich, I just read this.

Oh Rich, I just read this. I'm so sorry. Sad

pani113's picture
pani113
July 9th, 2013 | Link | So very sorry Richie. I am

So very sorry Richie. I am glad that Heather experienced your love before she left us.

"Fat can be beautiful. Intolerance is ALWAYS ugly!"

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