Gary

I had always been active and physically fit. I exercised regularly with cardio and weight lifting, which kept me in tip-top shape. In 1998, without any warning I became ill. I didn't quite understand at the time why this illness came upon me so rapidly.

For two years, I had no treatment or diagnosis for any of the problems I was having, which turned out to be Graves disease, a condition that affects the thyroid. Going to see a doctor was out of the question. I was young, so I told myself I would get better.

Gary images

I let myself go so long without treatment that my life was in danger. I ended up having my thyroid removed in 2001. I remember being prepped for surgery when the surgeon said, "Don't be surprised if you get up to 400-500 pounds." I thought he was joking, because he was smiling when he said it.

A few months after the surgery, my weight began to spiral out of control. My heaviest weight was 480 pounds. Until I was introduced to the weight loss clinic, I would lose 30-40 pounds over a 10-12 year span. Before I started the pre-op for weight loss surgery, my weight was around 390.

Through all this time I developed diabetes, cholesterol problems, high blood pressure, degenerative muscle disease and major depression. Having the gastric bypass surgery was the furthest thing from my mind. Dr. Clements would talk to me every time my wife would come to an appointment.

Then, during one of my wife's follow-up visits, he convinced me that this surgery is what I needed if there was to be any attempt to prolong life. I would have died prematurely without having the surgery, even though the illnesses that I had were treatable.

Having this surgery has given me the hope of an opportunity to live life to the fullest. Everything Dr. Clements shared with me has come to pass. This is no miracle treatment; it's the willingness to live and have a total life change. I can now do things as normal as anyone else; my body is in top shape again. I've shared my testimony with many people, leaving some in tears.

My calling and journey is to promote this life experience to others who are dealing with the pangs of being overweight. I honor the space that I'll occupy on the Wall of Fame at the Vanderbilt Center for Surgical Weight Loss.

I want to thank Dr. Clements and his staff for giving me the opportunity to be a part of the present and future of encouraging others.