By the time Katie Peterson’s weight reached 900 pounds, she knew her very life depended on getting bariatric surgery.
She was barely able to breathe, let alone walk. As her weight kept rising, she spent two years confined to her home, needing help to get out of bed or walk to the bathroom. Going to a doctor’s appointment required an ambulance crew and volunteer firefighters to lift her out of the house.
Without bariatric surgery, Peterson says she couldn’t lower her life-threatening weight. But when she began reaching out to hospitals in 2021 to request the procedure, they told her she was too heavy for it and that they couldn’t accommodate somebody her size. About 20 different hospitals turned Peterson down, she says.
“It was really hard. I seriously at one point I thought that there was no hope,” Peterson, 44, who lives in Lusk, Wyoming, tells TODAY.com.
“I was almost to the point of giving up… I’d probably be dead today. That’s how bad my health was.”
“She was going to die,” confirms Dr. Robert Quaid, a weight-loss surgeon at UCHealth in Fort Collins, Colorado, the only doctor who decided to take her on.
“She was in extreme need, but she was also an extreme risk… when you get to this level (of obesity), it scares a lot of surgeons.”
That’s because operating on such a big patient comes with enormous challenges. Everything from administering anesthesia to inserting a breathing tube is more difficult, Quaid says. Peterson would be his heaviest patient ever, but “if I don’t do it then she’s going to die,” he recalls thinking.
Finding Quaid was total game changer, Peterson says.
Extreme weight was beyond her control
Peterson had struggled with weight all her life. An emotional eater, she found solace in food when depression and anxiety struck. As the pounds accumulated over the years, she tried different diets, but would always regain any weight she lost.
In 2006 and weighing 650 pounds, she had gastric band surgery, which worked for a while and helped her lose 250 pounds.
But Peterson then went through “a nasty divorce” and her father passed away suddenly, leading her weight to spike again.
She reached at least 900 pounds at her heaviest, though the exact number is unknown because it was hard to find equipment to accurately weigh her, Quaid says.
“I felt horrible. I was barely able to walk. My breathing was horrible,” Peterson said.
Medications that helped keep her alive also gave her brain fog. After her family helped her out of bed in the morning, she spent her days on a sofa watching TV. Everything around the house, including cooking and cleaning, had to be done for her.
Such obesity isn’t the person’s fault — it’s an illness, Quaid says. Hormones, gut bacteria and body chemicals are different in these patients, making their body want to carry fat, he adds. Most healthy people wouldn’t be able to get to such an extreme weight even if they tried.
“I could force you to eat double your calories every day and it’s not very likely I can get you to 900 pounds because your body is going to take that, regulate itself and figure a way of staying where it wants to be and it’s not going to be 900 pounds,” he notes.
“She doesn’t want to be 900 pounds and there are a lot of factors that are driving people to these levels that are way beyond their control.”
Some of the health problems that go along with obesity include diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, sleep apnea and a higher risk of many types of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Peterson had some degree of heart failure and lung failure because every organ system was affected by her obesity, Quaid says. He worried she would die from an infection, pneumonia or a blood clot that would go into her lungs.
‘There is hope’
Peterson underwent a sleeve gastrectomy surgery in May of 2022.
The procedure involves removing about 80% of the stomach, including the portion that produces most of the hunger hormone, according to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. The change impacts metabolism, decreases hunger, increases fullness and helps with blood sugar control, the group notes.
The metabolic impacts of the sleeve gastrectomy are much more powerful and last longer than the effects of the gastric band, which failed for Peterson, Quaid says.
On the day of the surgery, six people were needed to wheel Peterson into the operating room and two operating beds had to be placed side-by-side to fit her. There was a tremendous amount of tissue to cut through to get inside her body, Quaid recalls, and once he was inside, it was hard to see because there was so much fat. He credits robotic technology for helping him to complete the procedure.
The surgery went better than expected and there were no complications.
At her last weigh-in, in November 2022, Peterson weighed 648 pounds — still an extremely high weight, but 250 pounds down from her maximum. She now feels full after eating six or seven bites food, and consumes a diet of mostly protein, fruits and vegetables. She’s able to walk better and has been doing laps around her house.
“I feel amazing,” Peterson says. “Life is a lot easier… but I still have a long way to go.”
Her goal weight is 225 pounds. When she slims down, her dream is to travel to Hawaii, Italy and other places around the world.
Quaid expects Peterson will need additional surgery to remove excess skin, which could limit her activity, and to augment the sleeve to encourage more weight loss when her weight plateaus. He expects her to live a normal life and wants other people in her situation to know they can get better.
“There is something that can be done to help you get out of this terrible disease process,” Quaid says. “There’s no such thing as too big [for bariatric surgery.]”
“I just want people to know that there is hope for us who are very large,” Peterson adds. “There is help out there.”
This article was originally published on TODAY.com