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A Body Transformed; A Soul Restored
Bariatric surgery transformed Sister Karen Cavanagh, both outside and inside. That’s because the change in her was more than skin deep; it was a victory over a childhood trauma that had plagued her most of her life.
For the 77-year-old nun who resides at a convent in Jamaica, New York, silence and food were her only comfort after being molested as an eight-year-old. Her weight quickly ballooned from that age, just like the weight of the world from the secret she kept until she was in her 40s. As she testifies, she ate to be able to endure the subterfuge. “I used food to stuff it down.
For decades since that tender age, weight issues defined her. At 4’8” tall, as she explains it, “I stopped growing one way and kept growing the other way.” At one point, when she was 14 years old, a doctor put her on speed (slang for amphetamines, a stimulant used in diet pills to suppress appetite). When she chose to enter the convent, she was required to lose at least 30 to 40 pounds in order to become a nun. “I could stop the weight gain,” she explains, “but it couldn’t stay stopped.” At one point, by age 30 she went from losing 100 pounds to gaining back 135 within five years.
Her list of health issues related to being overweight was a long one: circulatory problems, high blood pressure and rapid heartbeat, compromised mobility and a battle against diabetes. “I was very ill and in a lot of pain,” she laments, the result of which spurred her to cope with nine over-the-counter pain relief pills a day and two high blood pressure medications. This doesn’t take into account the distress and depression symptomatic of those who struggle with weight issues.
Yet Sister Karen persevered. “I was a school principal and a teacher. I did everything I had to do, but I realize now what it did to my body.”
Turning a Corner and Seeing the Light
When she was 63 years old, she saw a friend whose diabetes went into remission following bariatric surgery. She was amazed. Fourteen years ago, this phenomenon wasn’t as commonly recognized as it is today. She decided to explore bariatric surgery.
Particularly impressed by his credentials, Sister Karen chose Dr. Ashutosh Kaul of Advanced Surgeons, who performed gastric bypass surgery. She ultimately lost 140 pounds within 18 months following her surgery. “I couldn’t believe how it came off. I never gained back any weight,” she says. But she cautions it took work, and she still adheres to the discipline and techniques she learned from a book the practice provided, which she calls her “second bible.” This includes eating all her meals with a baby fork.
Hers is a life transformed. “Since I had this surgery I got my life back; I never knew beforehand the life I have today. I never knew the vibrancy and such energy. I live on a third-floor walkup, and I walk quite rapidly. Some of my friends can’t keep up.”
Her Heroes: A Surgeon and a Practice
Dr. Kaul did more than just perform Sister Karen’s surgery; he provided the necessary emotional comfort and support. She benefitted from this vital care while negotiating the universal challenges of weight loss. “He has such an understanding and compassionate manner. I think he has a reverence for people,” she explains of Dr. Kaul. “I call him my hero. I have him right up there with God.”
Everyone at Advanced Surgeons is exceptional, she testifies. “If I call, they are always more than welcoming, and Dr. Kaul always calls me back immediately.” It’s no wonder that when she needed gallbladder surgery some years later, Sister Karen chose Dr. Kaul yet again.
Today, Sister Karen remains quite active. She does all the baptism preparation and classes for parents, and works in her congregation as a medical insurance advocate for the many there with healthcare needs.
Sister Karen generously shares her time and her experience. She counsels others in bariatric surgery support groups. “There is no one who understands the experience like others who have gone through it,” she says. In addition, she relies on the support groups for herself as well. “They have certainly been a major influence in the success I have had. It’s worth it; it keeps me honest.”
Take Her Advice
Sister Karen summarizes her counsel to others. “My advice is to ask any questions. No question is foolish. And you can only be brave if you’re afraid. As for weight loss surgery, ‘It works if you work it’, is the advice I give.”
Of bariatric surgery she concludes, “It’s almost impossible to try to describe the transformation in the person.”
Her own life is the best example. “The biggest thing is that my life is so much freer.”