Celebrating the people who have transformed their lives
Shanthi with her granddaughter.
Shanthi was 45 when she became a widow. Her husband, Bala, died suddenly of a massive heart attack. He was 49. He left behind two children, a son of 22, who was just now helping in the family’s shop, and a daughter, 16, not yet out of school. Shanthi was beside herself with grief and terror. Who was going to run the shop? How was she going to get her daughter married? Will she survive the years ahead without her husband?
But deep in her heart she had always felt that Bala would meet an untimely death. He was a smoker when they got married. A chain smoker who puffed two packs a day. Sometimes he would even smoke the local beedis. She knew the cigarettes would kill him and begged him to stop, but to no avail. His job required him to travel extensively, he was sedentary, had erratic sleep patterns and ate whatever he could on the road. After a few years of this, he started feeling very tired and was thirsty all the time. He was diagnosed with diabetes and started on pills. His doctor told him he needed to make changes. So Bala quit his traveling job and opened up an electronics shop. His sleep improved, but he continued to smoke. He still ate poorly and was not very active. And despite Shanthi’s urgings, he was not compliant with his medications or his diet.
By the time he was 40, he was on insulin injections. But he still did not understand the association between diabetes and heart disease. He would take his insulin intermittently, sometimes he would take his insulin and forget to eat. Then he would start shaking and sweating and rush to find food in a panic. There was a sense of denial about his health problems. His attitude was one of dealing with problems as they come, not taking precautions to prevent something bad in the future. One morning, just weeks before his 49th birthday, he complained of severe chest and neck pain. Shanthi rushed him to the hospital, he died a few hours later, clutching his older sister’s hands, asking her to take care of his young family.
That scene was etched in Shanthi’s memory. She pulled herself together and over the next few years, she made some changes. No smoking in the family. Minimal eating out. She cooked healthy meals, focusing on vegetables, lentils, whole grains and beans. She encouraged her children to walk, she stayed active with household chores.
Although she herself is an insulin dependent diabetic, Shanthi is determined to get off insulin. She has seen significant improvement in her diabetes with the changes she has made over the years. Her children are both married now and she wants to live a long and healthy life to see her grandchildren grow. She will not let early heart disease claim her life like it did her husband’s.
Seemantho before gastric sleeve surgery.
Seemanto’s parents were looking to get him married and “settled”. He had just finished his MBA and his future was bright. One glitch was that he weighed over a 100 kilos. He figured now was the time to drop that weight. He started a rigorous exercise program and in just a few months he was down to 80 kilos. Soon after he married his beautiful wife, however, he started slipping into his comfortable old ways. Long work hours, extensive travel, sedentary lifestyle, no exercise, poor diet, and in no time he was back to where he started. Within a couple of years, he developed diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, His doctor warned him that he was heading straight for a heart attack. But the message didn’t quite reach him and he continued to get bigger.
He and his wife were soon blessed with a lovely baby girl, but even this event did not make him alter his lifestyle. His weight continued to go up, he was now very sleepy during the day and very tired all the time. His wife pleaded with him to take care of his health, but he just wasn’t able to make the change. One day, when he was tipping the scales at 138 kilos, he fell asleep while driving. This episode terrified him and he went to see his doctor right away. He was diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea or OSA. He was told that he needed to lose weight, and a lot of it, if he wanted to stay alive. Not only was there a significant chance of him getting into a fatal car accident if he fell asleep at the wheel, he was also at a very high risk for a heart attack because of his high sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and OSA. Diet and exercise alone were too little, too late. His doctor recommended weight loss surgery.
It was time to make a decision, he was at a crossroads, there was no turning back. After much thought, Seemanto decided to proceed with gastric sleeve bariatric surgery. He was started on a high protein diet before the surgery, the operation was successful and he recovered well. Within the first few months, he saw his weight decreasing to under 100 kilos and then to the current low of 88 kilos - almost his marriage weight! - just eight months after the gastric sleeve.
His doctor has stopped all his medications except one. Seemanto hopes to stop that too as his weight continues to drop. His goal is 70 kilos. He now has more energy and doesn’t snore. But what he is most thankful for is that he doesn’t fall asleep at the wheel any more. He is no longer afraid of dying while driving. He knows he has a new lease on life, he knows his heart is healthier. Sticking to a healthy daily routine is still difficult. There are days when he has sweet cravings and doesn’t want to do what he’s supposed to but he has now learned how to manage such days. For the most part, he adheres to a diet low in carbohydrates and high in protein, still enjoying most of his favorite foods, but in moderation. Finding time for exercise has been hard but he stays active at work.
Maintaining his weight loss will be a lifelong challenge for Seemanto, but he is ready for it, for himself and his family.
Seemantho after gastric sleeve surgery.
Beenu with her brothers, all following healthy lifestyle.
At the age of 28, with two children ages 8 and 2, Beenu was diagnosed with prediabetes. She was terrified when she pictured herself down the road having to give herself insulin injections like both her parents and her brother, all of whom had been diabetics for years. Her father had already had a heart attack.
She had been a cute child of normal weight, but in her teenage years, she started gaining weight rapidly. She loved to eat and she used food to relieve stress from family tensions and school work. She didn’t think much about eating healthily or managing her weight. People would tease her about her weight and her doctor warned her about potential health problems, but she would laugh it off. She was young and couldn’t imagine getting sick. Health problems were for old people. Heart attacks were for old men. She’d be fine.
Beenu got married at 18. She loved to cook. She watched cooking shows on TV and on Youtube. She tried new recipes and went out to eat at restaurants, without thinking about whether they were healthy or not. All that mattered was the taste. Her weight continued to go up. She became tired and irritable. She didn’t feel like doing much. It’s a thyroid problem for sure, she thought, but her thyroid tests came back normal. Her doctor told her, however, that she was anemic from poor nutrition, started her on iron supplements and told her to eat healthy foods and lose weight. So Beenu took the iron tablets but didn’t eat more healthy foods. Instead, she bought a treadmill and joined a weight loss program at a gym. She tried fad diets, weight loss shakes and starving herself to where she came close to fainting, and then overeat because she was so hungry. Her weight stayed the same. She stopped going to the gym, she used her treadmill to hang clothes. She went back to her usual life.
Her weight continued to climb after each pregnancy. She got more tired, her joints began to hurt, she couldn’t keep up with her children. She couldn’t find bras or underwear that could fit. The lovely clothes in the stores were not available in her size. And oh how she loved fashion, and dressing up. She wanted to wear jeans like all the fashionable young women in town. She felt herself getting depressed and irritable. One day her 6 year old son told her she was fat. That was a turning point in her life.
She went to the doctor and got checked out. She was prediabetic. She was shocked - she was not even 30! But she knew that she had to make a change, for herself and for her children. She realized there was no magic pill, no quick and easy way to get healthy. It had to be done the good old fashioned way - changing what she ate, drinking more water, stopping soft drinks and sweets, getting on her treadmill regularly, sleeping at the right time and reducing stress.
After one year of lifestyle changes, she has lost 16 kilos. She is no longer prediabetic or anemic. She can now get into her first pair of jeans. She looks in the mirror and sees who she feels herself to be. Healthy, beautiful and happy. She will never go back to her old ways. She has passed on her newly learned knowledge and behaviors to her family. She will not leave behind a legacy of heart disease for her children.