By Martin Ruffell
THIS WOMAN was forced to lose over TWENTY-THREE STONE in less than three years after being diagnosed with a rare brain disorder that required surgery.
Stay at home mum Evelyn Morales LaGrange (36) from Jourdanton, Texas, USA, was overweight throughout her childhood, but really started to gain weight rapidly after the birth of her daughter Rebecca (13) in 2007.
In 2009, Evelyn was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of the hormones which regulate metabolism. As a result, Evelyn found it impossible to avoid piling on weight and at her heaviest she weighed 35st 8lb and struggled to fit into a UK size 36 dress.
Evelyn’s weight led to a myriad of health issues including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, depression and anxiety. At her heaviest, Evelyn was only able to take a few steps before having to rest and sit down due to breathlessness and pain in her joints.
When in public, cruel strangers called Evelyn a cow and asked if she could see her own feet. Children would stare or laugh and she even caught numerous people taking pictures of her when they thought she wasn’t looking.
Evelyn’s weight also affected her love life with one former hook-up telling her that sex would be easier if she was smaller. Standing up for herself, Evelyn replied that it would have been easier if he was more well-endowed and left.
In February 2017, Evelyn was at home with her daughter and stepson Austin (14), when she suddenly felt a sudden pain in the back of her head. Losing her vision and control of her bowels, Rebecca called for an ambulance and Evelyn was rushed to hospital where she was joined by her husband Dennis LaGrange (42).
After a week of tests, Evelyn was finally diagnosed with Chiari malformation, a condition in which brain tissue extends into a sufferer’s spinal canal, due to the brain being too big for the skull.
Despite never having any symptoms of the condition prior to this event, Evelyn now has poor vision and suffers from migraines and chronic pain every day. She even has to sleep with a CPAP machine in order to help her breathe.
Following her diagnosis, doctors told Evelyn that brain decompression surgery, where a bone at the back of the skull is removed to create more space for the brain would help alleviate her symptoms.
Yet, with her weighing over 35 stone, the surgery was considered too risky and doctors told her that she would have to lose more than 21 stone in order for the surgery to go ahead.
On June 22, 2018, after a six month approval process, Evelyn underwent a gastric sleeve duodenal switch operation, in which the size of Evelyn’s stomach was reduced by 70 per cent.
In the 30 months since her operation, Evelyn has lost 23st 3lb and now weighs just 12st 5lb and fits into a UK size 12 dress.
Evelyn’s life has changed completely since her weight loss. She is now able to go shopping with her daughter without feeling exhausted and now loves to dance and walk her dogs in the park – activities that simply were not possible before.
Recent health issues including having to have a pacemaker fitted and hiatal hernia repair surgery have delayed Evelyn’s brain decompression surgery.
“I had always been heavyset, but it wasn’t until the birth of my daughter in 2007 that I started gaining weight quickly,” Evelyn said.
“I was then diagnosed with hypothyroidism which made it much worse.
“I never once thought about paying attention to what I was eating or drinking.
“I was a single mum so life got away from me as I worked and went to school.
“I would get home and was too tired to worry about taking care of myself and would eat junk food, which led to me gaining a lot of weight.
“A short while later I was getting treated for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
“I also suffered a lot with depression and anxiety so I would stress eat to find comfort.
“I embraced the ‘big girl sex appeal’ type of attitude, but I also knew I wasn’t taking care of myself the way I should have been.
“I would get people asking me if I could even see my feet or tie my shoes.
“I’ve even had people take pictures of me, kids laugh or stare at me and ask their parents why I was so fat.
“At times these things would happen in front of my daughter. They would break my heart but I would ignore it and just keep going.
“I went on a date where we ended up hooking up and in the middle of sex he tells me ‘you know this would be a lot easier if you were smaller.’
“I responded with ‘maybe it would help if you had a big enough tool’ I got up and left.
“I did feel crushed for that night but I got right back up and dusted myself down.
“In February 2017 I was home alone with my daughter and stepson when I felt as if I was hit in the head with a baseball bat.
“I lost my vision and the control of my bowls and had to have my daughter call for an ambulance.
“After undergoing test after test, I was finally diagnosed with Chiari malformation.
“I, like so many others, was born with this disorder but never had any symptoms until one day it was triggered.
“It’s difficult for me to stand for long periods of time and I can’t lift anything heavier than twenty pounds on a good day.
“My vision is bad especially during the day and I also suffer from migraines.
“I live with chronic pain on a daily basis but I push through it for my family.
“To alleviate the pain, I was told about brain decompression surgery, but the neurosurgeon said I would have to weigh under two hundred pounds for me to have this.
“After a six-month approval process, I finally got the green light for weight loss surgery.
“I had a gastric sleeve duodenal switch, a procedure in which surgeons removed approximately seventy per cent of my stomach.
“Since then I have lost more than twenty-three stone and my life has changed completely.
“I remember not being able to walk in the mall, plaza or at the market for a long time due to being so heavy.
“I would have to send someone else to the store for me or I would have to ride the electric carts to get around the store.
“My daughter is thirteen years old and I was never able to enjoy taking her to a festival or shopping when she was young because I would get so tired from standing and it would be too painful for me.
“I never wanted to leave my house before because I knew I would soon have to sit down somewhere, but now I am ready to get up and go.
“My daughter and I now enjoy going to the mall and can spend hours just walking around.
“I now love walking my dogs and love to dance around with my daughter at home.
“I am still waiting to get my brain decompression surgery but other health issues have gotten in the way, such as having to have a pacemaker fitted as my heart rate was dropping too low.
“I will be meeting with my brain specialist very soon with the hope that I will be able to have my brain decompression surgery soon.
“Regardless, losing weight has changed my life for the better, even if the circumstances surrounding my drive to lose weight aren’t ideal.”
Evelyn is quick to warn that weight loss surgery is not a magic pill that will prevent you from never putting the weight back on and admits that she has had to work hard in order to maintain her new slender frame.
Before her weight loss Evelyn would eat three bowls of sugary cereal for breakfast, followed by sandwiches and crisps or chicken nuggets for lunch. For dinner she would typically eat two bowls of spaghetti or a burger and chips, totalling upwards of 4000 calories per day. She was unable to exercise due to her weight.
Now Evelyn has a protein shake and eggs for breakfast, followed by a chicken or tuna salad for lunch. At dinner she typically eats steak with grilled vegetables or salad. When her Chiari malformation isn’t flaring up, Evelyn likes to dance, go on long walks and do weight lifting exercises.
“One thing my doctor stressed to me was that having this surgery was not a ‘magic pill’ that will never allow me to gain weight ever again,” Evelyn said.
“I’ve had to learn how to eat healthy, make healthier choices and change my relationship with food.
“I know so many may look at getting the surgery as a cheat way to lose weight but it’s far from it.
“No one ever told me I could never trust a fart again and the gas I get clears my house. Even my dog runs away from me.
“The most important thing for people with weight or health issues is to get active.
“Even if it’s as simple as parking your vehicle a little bit further away from the shop or work just to get those extra steps in.
“Small changes can turn into bigger and healthier habits in the long run.”