Fatboy gives thanks during weight loss journey

It’s been an interesting 10 months since I underwent weight loss surgery at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

In that time, I’ve dropped about 140 pounds, seen my waist size drop about 20 inches and people actually notice me for something other than being fat.

Getting here has been a remarkable journey, but it’s not been a path I’ve walked, run or boot-camped alone. I’ve had plenty of support along the way from people, most of whom I didn’t know a year ago and I am very thankful to have in my life.

The United Way has a slogan — Stronger Together. That is true in charity and in my journey.

Start Of A Journey

For those who haven’t followed my Fatboy series, here is a recap.

Last summer, I had what I thought was a heart attack. It turned out to be a serious case of indigestion. That led to diagnoses of diabetes and four different prescriptions for high blood pressure.

Years of denial about getting healthy were catching up to me.

I once weighed 421-plus pounds. I say plus, because that’s how much I weighed when I entered the surgical weight loss program at the University of Texas Medical Branch’s Center for Obesity and Metabolic Surgery.

I had already lost a lot of weight before that because of some other medical issues. At the time, I wore a size 64 pants and a 5XL shirt.

Thanks to a daddy-loan from my father — my insurance did not cover any of the surgery or associated medical costs — and a hefty withdrawal from my savings; I went in for weight loss surgery on Jan. 21.

Today, I am 283 pounds — 3 pounds shy of what was my goal weight for January. I now wear 2XL shirts, but recently found I fit in a lot of XL shirts. My pants size is 46.

What’s even better: People I have known for 20-plus years sometimes have trouble recognizing me. And I’m not done. I am resetting my goals.

My boss, Editor Heber Taylor, wants me to change the name of my blog and print series to Skinny Boy.

Not yet. Fatboy is still a motivating title for me; besides until I get rid of my man boobs — more on that in today’s blog, by the way — the Fatboy title remains.

So, there’s been a lot of progress for me. And on this Thanksgiving, I, too, want to give thanks.

Familia Joins Effort

First off, I want to thank my family, especially my dad, Jerry Aulds. My father went through a fight against colon cancer a few years ago, so I spent a lot of time with him at M.D. Anderson as he sought treatment.

After my heart scare last year, he got forceful with me and insisted I get the surgery I needed. Money wasn’t going to be an issue, he insisted.

Thanks to him, the $29,000 price tag — that’s for everything including the surgical procedure — was manageable.

My mother, Laura Delesandri, and her husband, Chris Delesandri, also made sure I had a place to stay after surgery, and they supported everything I did.

UTMB Crew ‘Saved My Life’

Then there’s my surgical team and the crew at the Center for Obesity and Metabolic Surgery of UTMB.

It all starts with Casey Radicioni, who works in patient services at the clinic. Now Casey is more than an employee; she also is a client.

I blogged about her weight loss struggles and her own surgery. Her journey two years ago had a purpose bigger than just getting healthy; she wanted to have a baby.

I’m proud to say that she’s now the mother of a 9-week-old. She always shared with me the things she learned from her surgery and warned me of pitfalls and tricks for maintaining the diet plan.

Interestingly, Casey’s mother, Becky Knape, had gastric bypass six years ago and lost 101 pounds, and Becky’s sister goes in for surgery next month.

Casey also was my reminder. She grew used to me forgetting when I was supposed to be in for appointments and always called to remind me to show up.

Another staffer/patient is nurse Kelli Gondesen, who had gastric bypass surgery seven years ago. She was part of the presentation I attended before deciding to join the program. She told her personal story in a frank but encouraging way.

Even as we prepared for this feature, she was offering more advice about skin removal, which is the next big step for me — likely next year.

I can’t eat a meal without the sweet — yet forceful — voice of dietitian Sukwan Jolley in my head. Anytime I think about drinking (water, soda, juice, beer) with a meal, I hear her voice telling me no.

When I think about eating something I shouldn’t, it’s her voice again warning me.

Another one with a sweet voice but who pulls no punches is Jeanette Negrotto, the nurse practitioner who always offered us solid advice.

Then there’s my surgeon, Dr. Obos Ekhaese. When I joined the program, I was considering the lap band surgery.

He was point blank with me, saying it would work but the results would not be what I needed to get healthy. He is the one who suggested I do gastric sleeve.

Dr. Ekhaese was right. My mother credits him with saving my life.

I tend to agree.

TransforMEtion Every Morning

The next major phase of my journey came July 4. How fitting that it was Independence Day. That was my first boot camp at TransforME in La Marque.

I won’t lie; I thought I was about to die during that first class. And the second. And the third.

But I kept going and still do, four times a week.

If Dr. Ekhaese saved my life, Frances Field, Shellie Long, Monica Genarie, Neal Hilton and Jana Brown extended it.

I have never enjoyed working out. Somehow, despite the pain, I do now and, in large part, it’s because of the five people I just mentioned.

They are the ones who put me and my classmates through our classes each morning.

And we all have become friends. These are people I love dearly. They are as much life coaches as they are trainers.

Not to sound like a commercial, but this is the place to change your life and it’s because of the people who run it.

Trust me, you will feel like they are trying to kill you. But for every ounce of sweat, there’s a pound of weight coming off.

I don’t mind that Frances cyberstalks me. When I am out late or not in one of the early morning workouts, she posts on my Facebook.

On three occasions, I’ve considered skipping a class until Frances called me out on Facebook. Within 20 minutes, I was in the next class.

Unlike some of the slick national boot camp or workout centers, this crew truly cares about each and every member of the class and his or her progress toward health.

Before joining, I did my research. I had plenty of my friends tell me that TransforME would be the best.

As soon as I confirmed I was joining, all those same friends came back and warned, “Frances is going to kick your butt,” or “Yeah, you will hurt.”

They were right. The entire crew has kicked my butt and gets the privilege early mornings four times a week to keep kicking my butt. And I’ll keep coming.

Friends In Health

They haven’t been alone in helping me. While many people like to be loners and sign up for private training sessions, I enjoy the group atmosphere of my classes.

Through that, I met some very special people who have taken me under their wings and help motivate me, push me and generally support me in becoming a better person.

That starts with Lori Carnes, a longtime friend who is the one who truly convinced me that joining TransforME would be the best move. We spoke for about an hour as I was making my decision.

She pulled no punches, said it would be tough and warned me that I would hurt.

But she also said the results would be quick. She made it a point to be in the first set of classes with me even though she worked out at different times.

When I signed up, I had no idea that some other friends would be there.

Katherine Tillotson Rearick is the daughter of former Daily News Publisher — yep, my old boss — Dolph Tillotson, whose wife, Teri, also is in classes with me.

Now, these two are workout fiends and could teach even the best trainers a thing or two about hard workouts. But they also have been some of the most encouraging people. When they see me struggling, they do what they can to pick me up.

I am thankful, too, for Shirley Carr, or as we call her in class, Mrs. Shirley.

Shirley’s husband and I have known each other since the days I called the play-by-play for the La Marque Cougars.

Mrs. Shirley is 62 years old and puts people half her age to shame in class. She is a true motivator just by showing up.

But there was one moment that made me appreciate her the most.

We were doing a workout that required us to go from a plank position to a push-up and back down again. Those unable to do it could just plank.

I decided I wanted to give the full workout a try after planking for a while.

As soon as I did, Mrs. Shirley noticed and yelled out, “You go, T.J.,” and the whole class cheered. Talk about motivation from the fans.

That brief moment was huge in convincing me that only through attempting do we succeed.

You’ll notice that so far everyone mentioned from my class is a woman.

My good friend Rosalind Richards — who shared her own story about her weight loss surgery and who talks to me regularly to offer advice and encouragement — recently commented that I go to class because I like to have strong women tell me what to do.

I’m not going to deny that.

Guys Stick Together

By the way, the guys are outnumbered in our classes about 10-to-2.

There are two, however, who have taken the time to push me to be better and have been a huge help in my journey.

Brian Gatley, a deputy for Constable Jimmy Fullen, was so happy to see another guy in class that we teamed up right away.

I’ll never forget our first resistance run when Brian slowed down his own pace to make sure I made it through the course.

Esteban Reyes, a retired U.S. Marine and avid runner, is another true motivator. As I prepared for our Press Run in September, Esteban helped me on my running form and worked with me on my breathing.

When we do have to run, he holds back to help me pick up my pace. He is the one who convinced me to get in a quick jog or walk after class most mornings.

More To Thank

The list of people I am and should be thankful for could fill an issue of the paper every day for a year.

There are those who joined Team Fatboy for our run. Thanks to the efforts of my Texas City High School classmates Carrie Johnson Coutorie and Kim Farson Carden, who organized a collection of former classmates to run. That day was special, too, because of all of my friends from Houston who came down for the run.

There’s also former TV news co-worker Danielle Bailey who, after her gastric sleeve procedure, offered me advice and guided me through the process.

But on this Thanksgiving, not only do I want to give thanks for the people mentioned here but also thank the thousands of you who follow my Fatboy series.

With each post and public appearance I make, people make mention they are following my progress.

Many share their own stories of struggles and success.

That is gratifying and, in many ways, very humbling.

But this also is a way to encourage those of you considering changing your lives for the better. Know this, that even if you think you have no support out there, there are people just like my friends who are more than willing to join your team.

You just haven’t met them yet.

You just have to take that first step and commit to doing it. Then, trust me, you’ll be saying thanks as well.

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