Xavier

In May 2012, I went to my cardiologist. After some testing, he told me I needed to lose weight or I was going to die. I went home and cried. I couldn't believe I had let myself get to that point.

The next month, I went on a cruise with my family. I had to constantly stop to catch my breath. That was the turning point. I thought, this is not how it's supposed to be at age 20.

Xavier E

I had struggled with weight from kindergarten through high school. By my senior year, I was around 300 pounds. Diet, exercise, nothing worked. I always felt like everybody was looking at me and making fun of me. I constantly felt judged. I felt like I stood out from everyone. I became hypersensitive to anything anyone said to me.

In high school, I was very involved in yearbook, photography and videography. I was in track and field in the shot put and discus events. I tried to stay social so I wouldn't feel insecure and down. But my insecurity still kept me from doing things. I was afraid to get my license. I often thought, what if I can't get out of the car, and they have to cut me out?

Shopping for clothes was one of the hardest things about being overweight. I couldn't buy the clothes I wanted to buy that everyone else was wearing because the stores wouldn't have my size. It was constant frustration. I got to the point where I just didn't buy clothes anymore.

There was only one time I felt good about myself and how I looked, and that was senior prom. My mom really encouraged me to go. Friends told me, Xavier, you look so nice. That was the last time I felt good about how I looked or wanted to go anywhere or do anything.

When I started college, my classes were stressful and I wasn't motivated. I entered a cycle of stress, which then turned into depression. I missed out on a lot because of my weight.

I was a little hesitant about surgery. To be honest, I have trust issues with people. I prayed about it. But once I met with the doctor who'd be doing my surgery, he made me feel comfortable and confident about it.

The psychologist at the center really helped me release a lot of things I had been hanging on to for years. All of it helped me feel more comfortable and to understand what I was getting ready to do to my body.

I healed and progressed really well after the surgery. The hardest thing has been going without soda and limiting my sugar. I was a sweets fanatic - cookies, cake, pie. I tried every kind!

I went past my goal of reaching 200 pounds and got down to 180. But I wanted to put muscle back on, so I'm at 212 right now. I feel so much better. I can walk on the field trips I take with my younger brother and sister. I try to walk two to three times a week.

I'm different now. I don't mind standing out now. It's exciting to go shopping. I can't stay out of the stores. I get excited because I can fit in the clothes. And if I can find them on sale, I get double excited!

This is the best decision I've made in my life. Without the surgery, I'd still be in a shell. I'm looking forward to dating and socializing more. I haven't been on a date since senior prom.

I'm looking forward to another family cruise in 2016. I won't have to do all those things I did on past trips like stopping to catch my breath and having to get the longer seat belt on the airplane.

I just got my license. I'm going everywhere now. My confidence is up. My self-esteem is going up. I recently started my own photography business. I'm enjoying life more.

I tell people, this surgery saved my life, or you wouldn't be talking to me right now. I don't know any other way to say it. If I hadn't gone to Vanderbilt, I wouldn't be here. I'm excited to still be here. I'm still living because of a decision I made.

It's been a big journey. Whatever someone's age or anyone who's looking forward to a longer life, I just hope my story can help somebody else.