Sharon Drake realized that if she remained at 410 pounds, she was risking imminent death.
Obesity-related diabetes was forcing her to have to inject insulin four times a day. She wasn't able to walk more than 10 paces without wheezing or losing her balance. Every simple cold she got had the potential to evolve into complicated pneumonia.
Sharon was 53 years old, and she couldn't stop eating -- even though she realized it was her weight that was running down her health. But knowing that death was a real potential outcome of her obesity didn't faze her.
"It wasn't the fear of dying," she said in a recent interview. "Everyone dies."
Here her voice trailed off and she glanced downward, at her body. "It was the fear of living in this prison I had made for myself," she confessed.
That fear prompted her to take a very drastic measure.
Sharon underwent a type of gastrointestinal surgery in October 2001 to reduce the capacity of her stomach. The procedure, known as malabsorptive surgery, involves a large portion of the stomach being literally stapled shut, and a section of the small intestine (where nutrients and calories are absorbed) being bypassed.
Several variations on this procedure are available to patients who meet the criteria (severe obesity and weight-related health problems such as type-2 diabetes or heart disease); Sharon underwent the most common, known as a Roux-en-Y gastric bypass.
Now 15 months after surgery, she weighs 187 pounds.
But despite having lost more than half her original body weight in a little over a year, Sharon cautioned that the procedure is not a quick fix or a miracle cure.
"It's been tough -- real tough," she admitted. "Surgery invades the body, and the body doesn't appreciate it very much. After the [procedure], I felt like I'd been run over [by] a Mack truck. And after I got home, I had to learn how to live life again all over. My stomach can only fit a few tablespoons of food now, and I have to be very careful about what I eat.
"If you overdo it," she added, "[the food's] comin' right back up."
Medical literature on malabsorptive surgery makes it clear it isn't for everyone; candidates must not merely be looking to shed a few pounds to fit into a fashionable bathing suit. Typically, patients considered for the procedure must be diagnosed as at least 100 pounds overweight, and must have exhausted traditional weight-loss measures.
In other words, the surgery is a last resort.