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No More Mr. Big Guy

Posted on July 18, 2019 in Bariatrics

BBQ restaurant owner now pit master of his fat(e)

Dougherty before and after bariatric surgeryJohn Dougherty was the big man in town.

“There could be guys over 6 feet tall in the room, but I was always ‘the big guy’ because I weighed 625 pounds and was 5-foot-9. I wasn’t overweight – I was ‘under tall,” he said jokingly. “But I didn’t want to be the big guy in the room anymore.”

So he turned to Jonathan Ray, MD, a bariatric surgeon at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center. It was Dr. Ray who helped him become less than “half the man he used to be” through a robot-guided laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery known as Roux-en Y.

Since his August 2017 surgery, Dougherty lost not only 400 pounds, but also his appetite – a nice bonus for a barbecue restaurant owner who enjoys smoked briskets and ribs as much as the customers at Coal Creek Smokehouse in Rocky Top.

“I don’t think about food anymore, especially since I’m around food all the time – all the time,” said Dougherty as the sweet smell of hickory smoke and sauce-slathered ribs hung in the air around him. “I’ll eat ribs – I just don’t eat like my customers do. I’m a huge condiment fan and I’ll get a taste of these sauces, but I don’t use them because they’re full of sugar. I fix it the way I want. It’s not that big a deal. Thanks to the surgery, I don’t eat a lot. I can’t eat a whole lot. I get filled up.”

That’s the way Roux-en Y gastric bypasses work in about 80 percent of patients, said Dr. Ray, whose practice has performed more than 2,500 bariatric surgeries.

“It’s amazing how patients lose the desire to eat,” said Dr. Ray. “When they lose that desire, they gain control. We’ve had patients say, ‘That little voice that told me to eat is gone!’ Patients lose that desire because that’s what the surgery actually does. It blocks the ‘hunger hormones’ that stimulate appetite. We have a habit of eating. That’s the problem. It’s an addiction just like any other addiction. We can break it, but it takes a lot of changes and it depends on willpower.”

The lack of willpower kept Dougherty’s weight fluctuating. He even took second place in a “Biggest Loser” contest 15 years ago in Richmond, Ky., but quickly gained back the 200 pounds he lost. “It was a never-ending cycle,” he said. “I’d work out like a beast, but wouldn’t eat right and the weight would come right back. It’s a lifestyle change, and I didn’t change.”

Before long, he was wearing 6XL to 8XL-sized shirts and size 62 pants. “My thighs were bigger than my waist so I had to get pants that would fit over my thighs too,” he said. “My legs went straight down like tree trunks, and at night, I had to put my feet up because they’d swell so much. It was miserable.”

He was too wide to fit in armchairs and couldn’t tie his shoelaces. He was too big to squeeze behind the steering wheel of most cars and required an extender on his seat belt. When he flew, the airline charged him for two seats.

He got stuck in a tube slide at a water park, and had to “inch” his way down. He attempted to ride a roller coaster, but couldn’t lock in the safety bar. “Finally, they let me off, but as we left, all the other riders were watching me on my walk of shame. I have a good sense of humor, but it was horrible.”

Even worse than the humiliation, was his health. “I wanted to be around for my three boys, but I wasn’t going to be,” he said. “I probably had a good five years left on me, if that much. I mean 600 pounds, borderline diabetic, hypertension that’s going nowhere but up – something’s going to give. It was only a matter of a time.”

Today, the 50-year-old Dougherty wears off-the-rack medium or large shirts, size 36 pants, and slips easily into armchairs, single airline seats, roller coasters and water tube slides. He ties his own shoes and looks as fit as he did during boot camp in the Army. He works out at a gym five days a week, eats right, has reached his target weight and is enjoying life.

“Dr. Ray was able to save my life,” said Dougherty. “He’s a wonderful man, and I really appreciate him. He was great – always friendly, always positive. I’m telling you, this surgery changed my life. It did. I definitely look at things differently now and people look at me differently – I’m no longer the big guy in the room.”

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