Lately, Katie Peterson has found gratitude in unexpected places. Not only is she thankful for once again being able to drive a car and do laundry, but she’s also grateful for the monumental journey she has taken on, already shedding 330 pounds.
Most importantly, she’s thankful for the support of those around her who helped make possible her biggest blessing: life.
About two years ago, Peterson weighed nearly 900 pounds and had all but given up on ever finding help for her extreme obesity caused by a lifetime of food addiction and mental trauma.
“I knew I was already on my way to dying,” she said.
Only 44 years old and a mother of two teenagers, she felt hopeless. Doctors had turned her down numerous times, saying she had to lose hundreds of pounds before bariatric surgery would even be an option.
In what she figured would be her last attempt, she found a form on the internet. She entered her name, address, and telephone number and hit the send button. A few days later, her phone rang.
That call was the start of Peterson’s new journey toward living again. It is challenging and frustrating but it is now starting to give Peterson back her independence and offering her much to be thankful for.
“Being where I’m at now – it’s huge. I didn’t think I’d be here. I didn’t think by now I’d be alive,” Peterson said.
All but given up on weight loss and a normal life
When Peterson first got the call from UCHealth, she lived in Lusk, Wyoming – a two-stop light town where she’d grown up. She’d barely left her house in over two years. Each morning, she moved from her bedroom to the living room couch and then back at night with help from her then 17-year-old daughter, Elyse.
Before she headed off to school or to her nursing assistant job, Elyse would make her mother a lunch and place it in a cooler near her mom. In the evening, Elyse placed a folding table and a hot plate in front of her mom, and that’s where Peterson would make them dinner.
Peterson helped where she could, but things like laundry, which required descending stairs into the basement, were impossible. Peterson had a valid driver’s license but hadn’t driven in years. When she did need to travel, it was usually facing backward in the back of her mother’s minivan, with the seats removed.
But then came that call of hope: UCHealth was willing to help.
Peterson, weighing 890 pounds, made her initial trip to meet with bariatric surgeon Dr. Robert Quaid in June 2021.
“If we did nothing for her, she would die in a short time,” Quaid said. “That’s the balance. Someone must step up and help, or you leave her alone, and she dies at home. And because of our experience in terms of a program and staff, this is not something we or I would normally say no to. Quite the opposite. We’d say, ‘Let’s try to help you.’”
In May 2022 – a year after that initial visit, numerous tests, a strict diet program and support from UCHealth’s bariatric program nurse navigator Michelle Carpenter – Peterson underwent a sleeve gastrectomy. During the procedure, Quaid removed about 80% of Peterson’s stomach, leaving a sleeve-shaped tube as her stomach, which limits the amount of food that Peterson can eat.
It was a challenging surgery – both to perform and to coordinate. Peterson had to get help getting out of her house and into her mother’s car to travel more than three hours from her home to UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado. At the hospital, it all had to be carefully coordinated, from transporting her within the hospital to administering anesthesia and monitoring blood pressure to inserting a breathing tube and IV.
Everyone played an essential part in making the surgery happen, Quaid said. And it went well. Peterson spent five days at Poudre Valley Hospital before returning home to Lusk.
Over the next year, Peterson attended UCHealth’s virtual bariatric support groups, continued to speak weekly with her therapist to work through her emotional trauma and food addiction, and got resources from Carpenter.
Peterson also shared her story through UCHealth. And the support readers showed her was “mind-blowing,” she said. Strangers sent her letters, emails and Facebook messages. Some shared their stories and words of encouragement, while others explained how her story had inspired them to seek help.
“It was nice to know that I’ve touched that many people and am giving hope to people,” Peterson said. “I am telling my story to inspire others and let people know there is help, not to give up. That’s where I was, and if I hadn’t gotten help from UCHealth, I wouldn’t be here.”
Believing in herself and making the changes necessary to succeed
Besides shedding 330 pounds, a lot has changed since surgery. On Aug. 1, 2023, Peterson and Elyse moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming, about an hour north of Fort Collins. It was a difficult transition, but it helped push Peterson forward.
“The move (to Cheyenne) has been good but a very hard emotional battle with myself. I have to keep remembering that I can do this. I’m still on this journey, doing this on my own. I have a great support system – that’s not a question – but it’s a mind game when it comes to addiction. It’s the willpower and getting over so many roadblocks that I still battle with.”
During their first month in Cheyenne, Elyse worked 12-hour shifts as a CNA at a rehabilitation center. During those hours, she only had 30 minutes for lunch to go home and check on her mother. Though a bit lonely for Peterson, it forced her to do more things herself, she said.
“It was an adjustment for me. It was good but scary at first, and (Elyse) was worried too – what if something happened? I’d have to call and have someone help me,” Peterson said.
But soon, Peterson was walking throughout the house by herself to let the dogs outside or to make lunch and dinner in the kitchen.
“I was doing everything on my own,” she said. “I had been doing a lot more since surgery, but this helped give me even more independence.”
Peterson then began conquering stairs, first the five steps at the front and back doors, then the 13 steps downstairs to do laundry.
“I missed doing laundry,” Peterson said with a chuckle.
And now that she’s not having to lug her oxygen tank around during the day, she’s been practicing walking without her cane.
“It’s the little things like that which are adding up, making a huge impact on how I’m looking at things now,” Peterson said. “I’m able to do so much more.”
Recently, she got behind the wheel of her daughter’s Ford Fusion and drove for the first time in four years.
“That was the biggest boost, just to know I can have that freedom again of driving,” Peterson said.
And she got another boost in September when she visited Dr. Quaid for a follow-up visit.
For several months, Peterson’s weight seemed to have plateaued at 630 pounds. But during her visit to Poudre Valley Hospital, she weighed 590 pounds.
“I’m the lowest now than I’ve been in … I don’t know how long,” she said.
Quaid was happy with Peterson’s progress and encouraged her to keep up the hard work.
“She looked good,” he said. “I’m happy with how she is doing, and it was great to see some of those life changes that were very dramatic for her.”
What are the next steps for this bariatric patient?
Generally, after bariatric surgery, a person’s weight loss begins to level out about a year and a half after their surgery.
“The plan all along was to let Katie get better and get that weight loss where it wants to be, then we add on another surgery that would increase the effect and help her lose more,” Quaid said.
That additional surgery would be SADI or Single Anastomosis Duodenal Switch. In this procedure, Quaid would bypass 60-75% of the small bowel.
Quaid said he uses SADI as an add-on to the sleeve gastrectomy that Peterson had done in May 2022. But SADI comes with risks. Not only is the surgery more intense, but it involves a strict diet and regimen of vitamins afterward. A person must be committed to those changes. He said he feels Peterson has demonstrated that commitment. Still, since she is continuing to lose weight, he wants to wait a while longer.
She will visit with Dr. Quaid again in December to re-evaluate her progress and next steps.
For Peterson, her next steps are just ensuring she’s taking them.
“There are still things I want to do but physically cannot do yet, but I’m getting there, and that’s keeping me going,” Peterson said. “I don’t have the pain like I used to. I’m able to travel, ride and walk better. And I keep reminding myself daily that if I take five more steps than I did yesterday, that’s a feat.
“I might be 45, but I still have a lot of life to live. I’ve lost a lot of time that I can’t do anything about, but I have a whole future that I can shape and mold to what I want it to be,” she said.
“I’m thankful for my second chance.”