The long-term consequences of WLS – Heather’s Story

Mod note: It is with great sadness that I’m posting the following story. For those of us who know richie79 from Big Fat Blog, this will be devastating news. I’m so sorry for your loss, Richie.

My name is Rich; I may be better known to some of you as richie79 of the UK who used to post prolifically on Big Fat Blog and elsewhere in the Fatosphere for many years. I wanted to share my dear wife Heather’s story and felt this was maybe the best place to do it.

I met ‘sweetheather86′ online in 2005 through a plus-size dating website. I’ve always had a preference for bigger women and at the time was in a bad place following the failure of a previous long-term relationship. Heather and I hit it off almost immediately despite her being in the US and almost 7 years younger than I. Looking forward to daily emails from one another quickly progressed to a first nervous long-distance phonecall, nightly 4-hour chat sessions on MSN and before either of us knew it I’d booked a ticket to Boston. Two incredible weeks on from our first shy meeting at Logan Airport I knew this was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

The only cloud on the horizon was the gastric bypass Heather underwent just two weeks after we first made contact. Even then I knew of the horrendous risks of these operations and was even in two minds whether to continue contact, but had already fallen for her at this point. She came from a long line of big women and had herself been big throughout childhood, resulting in numerous failed diets and all the bullying and exclusion that accompanies being a fat child / teen. At the time several of her family members had undergone the surgery and were still in the ‘honeymoon’ period. She told me that she wanted it done so that she could have all the things in life she wanted – someone to love her, a home and a family, and not to be abused and harassed in public, which she had been convinced were not available to a person of her size. She opted for the bypass as unlike the lap-band it was irreversible and therefore offered no opportunity to reconsider at a later stage.

Our relationship continued to blossom even as her health deteriorated. Each of us crossed the Atlantic to spend long periods together in one another’s countries and during this time we crammed in as many activities, visits etc as some couples do in a lifetime. In September 2007 I proposed to her and she accepted without hesitation; we were married two years later almost to the day and having obtained a spousal visa, in July 2010 she moved to Leeds in the UK to live with me full-time. By this point she had lost around 200lb and gained back almost 100lb of that. She was on a cocktail of drugs, could eat very little, suffered from constant dumping syndrome and was developing problems with joint pain and constant fatigue, particularly after a revision to the original surgery to repair the staples but which further reduced the range of foods she was able to eat. She looked gaunt and ill but was constantly congratulated on her weight loss, which exasperated me.

In October 2010 Heather gave me the news that she was pregnant. Our joy at this was tempered only by concerns about her deteriorating health. Fortunately apart from having to be artificially rehydrated several times (she suffered from such debilitating nausea throughout the pregnancy that she was at times unable to keep down fluids) her pregnancy passed without serious incident. Our son Ben was born in June the following year; despite several attempts to induce her at term plus two weeks she was never in active labour and had to undergo an emergency Caesarean section where she was treated like an inconvenience by several of the medical staff.

Her surgeon in the US recommended a UK counterpart in our city who might have been able to help but under NHS rules she would first have to see a dietician. I went along with her as she was worried that this would be used as yet another opportunity to shame her about her weight; predictably the dietician told her that on her sub-1000 caloric intake it was ‘impossible’ for her to be maintaining at 320lb and that there must be something she wasn’t telling her (because everyone knows that fat people always lie about their eating habits). This was followed up by a barium swallow which suggested she may be suffering from a stricture (narrowing) of the digestive tract and the prospect of further investigation (subsequent events meant this never ultimately took place).

On the weekend of 8th February 2013 I went to visit friends in another city. Heather had encouraged this rare weekend away, as we took it in turns to give one another breaks from the stresses of daily life. She waved me off at the train station with hugs and kisses and called to tell me goodnight later that evening. That would be the last I ever heard from her. My attempts to contact via text and phone throughout Saturday went unanswered and, knowing how out of character this was, my friend drove me home. Unable to gain access to the house, which she’d locked from within, I called the police, who broke in and found her collapsed in our bathroom. I was told that she’d been gone for some hours. Our little boy was fortunately still upstairs in his crib and none the worse but for need of a clean diaper and a good feed.

Initially we thought the cause may have been related to a persistent headache she’d been complaining of but which her doctor had failed to take seriously. The results of the post-mortem however showed that the truth was far worse. Unbeknown to anyone she’d developed a fistula at the site of the gastric bypass surgery. This had suddenly ruptured causing, as the report put it ‘destruction of chest cavity and diaprhagm through discharge of gastric material’. I don’t even want to imagine the pain my poor sweet wife suffered in her last hours, or to think that the surgery on which she’d once pinned her hopes of acceptance (and subsequently come to regret when she realised that her happiness was not weight-dependent) had been a ticking timebomb from the very beginning of our relationship.

Heather was without a doubt one of the sweetest, kindest, most loving people I have ever had the privilege to know. In a world with so much cruelty and unpleasantness she was a revelation of tolerance and humanity. She gave me confidence to be myself and helped me through my diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome last year. We had a strength of connection that is all too rare and were soul mates in every sense of the word. In turn she told me that my unconditional love for her had finally given her contentment and safety when so much of her life had been marked by pain and unhappiness. My life, Ben’s life, and the world at large will be all the poorer for her absence from them. Rest in peace my sweet one, and know no more pain.

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56 Comments

  1. Reddelady

     /  February 24, 2013

    I am so so sorry for your loss. My love goes to you and your son.

    Reply
  2. Richie, I’m in tears right now thinking about what you and she went through. I’m so sorry for your loss, and I’m also angry at how she was treated, both by the medical establishment and by society throughout her life. If there’s anything I can do to help, just let me know.

    Reply
  3. I have no words, except your not alone and I’m horribly sorry of what Heather endured before she died, so tragically. I had a gastric bypass in 2001, I got pregnant but had no support system and was a single mom of one child already who was 9 at the time of my surgery . I had enough complications, both pregnancies before and after surgery(I’m so not blaming my children) and just how my body responded to a perfectly performed surgery that I still nearly died several times and I actually did need and it is possible to reverse a gastric bypass to save someone’s life. Unfortunately, by then I had a nervous breakdown as no one would take my physical or mental health that detoriated, seriously, which happened before my reversal, my gastric bypass complications got worse after my breakdown, which led to a suicide attempt in 2008 and my giving up my kids prior to that. In 2010 I kept having multiple bleeds and that’s when my gastric bypass was taken down. This is why though I tell my story as humiliating as it is, as I was failed and more importantly, my children were, by every system possible, medically, mentally, state…..
    It doesn’t help you to get her back. But know people will fight to keep Heather’s memory alive, and how horribly she died. Words cannot express the sadness I feel for you and your son and for Heather. Please know that her life and your life will be told and never forgotten, I figured I escaped dying for a reason and talk about what happened to me and others I know so that families don’t disengrate due to losing someone they love, so horribly…
    Hugs, Lisa……

    Reply
  4. Oh, God. Richie, I’m so sorry for your loss. Sad and angry for you, and for Heather, and sending love to you and your little boy.

    Reply
  5. Richie, it’s been forever since I posted at BFB (I’m Euterpist there), but I always looked forward to your posts. I’m so sorry for your loss and for your wife’s years of pain, both mental and physical. You, Ben, and all those who love your wife and you have my deepest sympathy.

    Reply
  6. I am so sorry to hear this, my best wishes to you and your son. This is a tragedy.

    Reply
  7. I am so sorry for all of you that this has happened. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  8. Nicole

     /  February 24, 2013

    I do remember you from BFB, Richie, and I’m so terribly sorry to read this. Your Heather sounds like she was wonderful, and it is a tragedy that her child will grow up without her. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope it will cause people to think twice about WLS, even as I know how tempting the thought of escaping the societal stigma associated with being fat can be. If it weren’t for BFB and other FA sites, I believe I might have gone down that road myself.

    Reply
  9. Susan Stinson

     /  February 24, 2013

    I am so sorry to hear this, Richie. The love in your story is a powerful thing. The loss is so terrible. All best to you and Ben. I’ll be thinking of Heather, as you write of her here.

    Reply
  10. I’m so sorry for your loss and for all the suffering that Heather had to go through. You and your son are in my thoughts.

    Reply
  11. Andy Jo

     /  February 24, 2013

    Oh Richie! I am so incredibly sorry to hear about your loss! May she rest in peace now. Please know that I’ll be thinking of her and of you and your son.

    Reply
  12. Mara

     /  February 24, 2013

    Richie, thank you so much for being able to tell Heather’s story. It must be so terribly hard to revisit the problems that led to her death. I thought about having WLS as far back as 1977, when I was talked out of the surgery by two friends who had undergone it. I probably would be dead by now if I had gone ahead with it.

    Over the years, more and more doctors have started our appointment with the words “Have you ever thought about weight loss surgery? I tell them I have, indeed. But it was the death of 15 of my friends over the years that made me decide never to go through with it. Some uneducated doctors try to debate me and have even expressed disbelief about all the deaths.

    I’m so very sorry to hear about your wonderful wife. I am sending you hugs and love from Portland Oregon.

    Reply
  13. Richie, nothing I can say will make an inch of difference…I’m so so sorry, so much sorrier than I could ever convey. I’m crying right now for you and Ben and your loss. We’ve known each other online over the years and I just wanted to let you know that I’m here for you, whenever and in whatever capacity. Email me if you ever need or want to chat. You and Ben are in my thoughts, and though I never knew your sweet wife beyond your mentions of her here and there on BFB and other places when you were dating, preparing for the wedding, and then married, I’ll remember what you’ve said about her here and elsewhere, forever.

    Reply
  14. My sympathies to you & your son, Richie. I am so sorry for your loss & your & your son are in my thoughts.

    Reply
  15. lifeonfats

     /  February 24, 2013

    Richie, this is Bree who used to post at BFB. I remember your posts about your wife and this is such a shock. My condolences go out to you and your family. This terrible tragedy should remind everyone that nothing good comes from fat shame and the constant pressure to get thin at any cost.

    Reply
  16. What a tragedy! My deepest condolences to you and your son.

    Reply
  17. I’m just gobsmacked and in tears of pain and rage. This is the very definition of a truly senseless tragedy. How I grieve for you and for this world around us. You have all my love and support and prayers.

    Reply
  18. Kaizykat

     /  February 24, 2013

    Richie, I remember you from BFB a few years ago when I was first getting into FA.

    I am so sorry to hear about Heather. I can’t think of anything that will make you feel better. My thoughts are with you and Ben, I know that nothing will make you whole again, but I hope that the pain eases.

    Reply
  19. meerkat

     /  February 24, 2013

    So tragic. My condolences.

    Reply
  20. SportyGranola

     /  February 25, 2013

    Richie, pain and rage for your loss–words don’t even begin to cover it (this is pocomommy at BFB). Thank you for the courage to tell your story. I am so angry at the “medical establishment” that dreamed up this nightmare and foists it on people in the name of “for your own good” but also at each and every person in our society who makes it so hard for fat folk to just be who we are. While nothing will take the pain away or bring Heather back, maybe just maybe her tragedy will inspire us all to work harder against the fat hate that permeates our world. My love to you and Ben.

    Reply
  21. Nothing I’ll ever say will soothe the pain, but hang in there. Lots of love and kindness your way, condolences too… may the whole world hear of your story so asshole doctors don’t kill more people this way…

    Reply
  22. Richie, my heart goes out to you and your son.

    Reply
  23. Such a horrible story! I am so sorry to hear about Heather and I wish there was something that I could say that would ease the pain but I know it won’t. BFB and other FA sites brought me through some trying times in my life and I am so glad to have found you and them. You, Ben and your families are all in my thoughts and prayers

    Reply
  24. Reblogged this on The Girl in the Black Flip Flops and commented:
    Its with a heavy heart that I share this fellow FA bloggers story in hopes that it may save even one life

    Reply
  25. Barbara

     /  February 25, 2013

    Oh no. I’m so sorry, Rich. I used to post on Big Fat Blog as Babyseal. I remember you very well. I am so, so sorry. There are no words. I can hardly form a coherent thought thinking of you and your little baby… you without the love of your life, your son without his mummy. It’s terrible, horrible and tragic. Silent, gentle hugs.

    Reply
  26. buttercuprocks1

     /  February 25, 2013

    Richie, this is BuffPuff from BFB. I was stunned and saddened to hear this awful news. My thoughts are with you and Ben and I’m so very sorry.

    To hear about this at a time when the National Obesity Forum is recommending this barbaric practice be carried out on children for the good of their health fills me with absolute rage.

    Reply
  27. The Real Cie

     /  February 25, 2013

    Tears in my eyes. Size prejudice is literally causing deaths. I am so glad that Richie is speaking out about what happened so others can know the truth. I am so sorry for the loss to him and his family.

    Reply
  28. Fatfairy

     /  February 25, 2013

    Rich, I am so sorry for your loss.

    Reply
  29. Meowser

     /  February 25, 2013

    I am so sorry you had to experience this, Rich. Aspie hugs if you want ‘em.

    Reply
  30. wriggles

     /  February 26, 2013

    Sad to hear from you again in such circumstances Rich. I hope for the best of everything for you and your son with all my heart.

    Reply
  31. I am so, so sorry for your loss.

    Reply
  32. This just reiterates my feelings about that horrid surgery. Such an awful tragedy! Prayers for you, your son and your Heather.

    Reply
  33. May her memory be a blessing to her and for all who knew her. *hugs*

    Reply
  34. I am so deeply sorry for your loss. I too have lost loved ones from complications from WLS and it makes me so angry to hear experiences like your own over, and over and over again. Please know that you have support from those of us in the fat activist community and I hope you are surrounded by loving friends and family offline as well.

    Reply
  35. I am so very sorry for your loss. My heart is with you and your son at this time.

    Reply
  36. Katesome

     /  February 26, 2013

    Horror. I am so sorry for your terrible loss and the awful pain your wife went through. Her treatment by doctors is nothing short of negligence and abuse. Terrible terrible terrible.

    Reply
  37. Kedra

     /  February 26, 2013

    I am so sorry and saddened by your loss.
    I can’t imagine the pain you must be in.
    I hope the memories of Heather and the joy
    Of your son will keep you strong .
    Kedra
    Australia

    Reply
  38. Lisa

     /  February 26, 2013

    So sorry for your loss!… May you continue your love for her and give to you children for ever!…:)

    Reply
  39. eyesandsighs

     /  February 26, 2013

    Rich: My thoughts and deepest sympathies are with you, Ben, and family and friends. My uncle was a casualty of gastric bypass surgery too. He lost almost 200 pounds in two years, but was never the same after the surgery. He experienced dumping, constant nausea, and overwhelming fatigue. Before the surgery he had no health problems and spent several years rwsearching gastric bypass. He felt confident that it would help him. Despite losing 200 pounds, he lost his zest and vitality. He died 2 years after his surgery. An autopsy showed that he died from complications of his surgery.

    You are not alone in grieving the loss of someone to gastric bypass. My heart is with you.

    Reply
  40. darlingdagger

     /  February 26, 2013

    I can’t even begin to understand what you and your family have gone through. This is so sad and I am so very, very sorry for your loss. I hope that some good may come from your wife’s story in that it brings awareness of the severe consequences of surgery like this. Again, I am so sorry for your loss. May she now be in peace.

    Reply
  41. I know it doesn’t change anything, but thank you for your courage and ability to tell the story so many people need to hear…myself included. I’m 43, with recently diagnosed severe Rheumatoid Arthritis, and for the past 4 years I’ve been fighting to convince myself that the thoughts I have regarding gastric bypass surgery are just fears, and all the doctors must know better…right?

    Not anymore. Thanks to you and your Heather’s story, I know that I will -never- let anyone convince me into weight loss surgery of any kind. As I have told doctors, over and over again, I am -already- bad at taking care of myself, and my RA. I forget my pills, I procrastinate and miss doctors visits, labs, etc. How exactly is going through my -first ever- surgery, one that requires such careful aftercare and commitment (and -still- might just kill you!) that it’d be even more work than the RA, FM, and just keeping a handle on my weight combined…a good idea? ((Wow, that made -no- sense. Sorry…tears and pain pills make for bad typing/writing.))

    Anyway, thank you again, for myself and the possibly hundreds of other lives you may have saved, just by being brave and letting the world hear your pain and loss…and righteous anger. *zen-hugs*

    Reply
  42. I am heartbroken reading this. I am so deeply sorry that we treat each other so badly that some of us die from it. Your wife sounds beautiful and I hope you and your son can live with her firmly in your hearts. Deepest sympathies.

    Reply
  43. Richie, I am devastated to hear this. You are in my thoughts.

    Reply
  44. This absolutely breaks my heart. I’m so sorry for your loss, and so sorry for your son to lose his mama so young. Many hugs.

    Reply
  45. Paul Ernsberger

     /  March 1, 2013

    I feel so frustrated about this and all the other needless deaths. I have been warning about weight loss surgery for over 30 years and it just keeps getting worse and taking more and more lives.

    Reply
  46. It’s been a busy last week for me but I just wanted to check in and show my appreciation for everyone who’s posted their kind words and thoughts to this thread. I uploaded our story here because I knew that people from the FA community in particular would understand the sense of anger and needless waste I’m currently experiencing, because as Bree and others said, ultimately it was fatphobia that cost my Heather her life. It’s been comforting to hear from so many of the old BFB regulars too; we had a good thing going over there for such a long time and I missed your voices in the world even before all this happened. And thus far (in addition to the couple of examples given here) we’ve managed to convince at least half-a-dozen people (including several of her family members, a colleague and a friend of a friend) who were seriously considering WLS to dismiss the idea.

    Still, nothing can bring back my love, Ben’s mama, my MIL’s daughter. I miss her more and more with every day that goes by and can’t believe that it has only been three weeks since life was still normal.

    Meowzer, you’ll probably understand better than any how precious a safe, understanding person is to an Aspie and how life-enhancing it can be to have someone with whom to share the daily struggles without fear of judgment or misunderstanding. Someone who sees my little quirks and idiosyncracies as something to value rather than an inconvenience. And I had eight years of something truly wonderful, a counterweight to all the misery and injustice in life, and something most never find in a lifetime, and for that I will always be so grateful, but forever in the knowledge that there should have been so much more – more time, more love, more memories – for all three of us. Fatphobia made me see the world for what it really is before ultimately cheating me of the one thing that made living in it worthwhile. The sooner we find a way to fight back and ultimately defeat this oppressive and hateful system the better for every single one of us.

    Reply
    • Harriet

       /  March 15, 2013

      Dear Ritchie,

      I am so sorry for your loss and I would like to express my deepest sympathy for you and your family. I hope you don’t mind me contacting you like this and that you don’t find this message too intrusive. My name is Harriet and I’m a journalist from Barcroft Media, a press agency in London. We write real life features for the women’s magazines and I wondered if you would be interested in sharing your story with the readers? It could raise awareness about any of the points you mentioned, like fatphobia or the risks of a gastric bypass. I’d like to assure you that the story would be handled with the utmost care and sensitivity. I’d also be happy to go through the story with you before publication and make any changes that are asked. I can fully appreciate that now might not be the right time, so please take as long as you need to consider this. My email is harriet.hernando@barcroftmedia.com should you wish to get in touch.
      Take care.

      Reply
  47. Maura

     /  March 4, 2013

    Richie, I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you so much for sharing the tragic story of your dear Heather’s death.

    Reply
  48. anna

     /  March 4, 2013

    I am sorry for your loss. I wish there was something I could say that would make this any better. I hope that you and your family are taking care of yourselves.

    Reply
  49. Carolyn

     /  March 5, 2013

    I am so, so sorry. Thank you for writing this.

    Reply
  50. Reblogged this on .

    Reply
  51. Just seeing this now. So sorry for your loss, Richie.

    Reply
  52. Richie: I just now clicked in over at BFB to find your post. I’ve been blocked there for more than six months now for some dumb computer-related reason, and I don’t check in much anyway.

    At any rate, this is a very late response, but since this is a life-time’s tragedy, I figure it’s never too late to tell you how sad and sorry I am at your loss, and also outraged. When I was doing my stint of hospital chaplaincy training, I was okay at processing and helping others process purely medical traumas and diseases. While they’re never easy, there’s something “okay” about being subject to the “normal,” statistically rational vicissitudes of life. But when there’s a justice issue involved, as in this instance, or senseless violence — which, actually, also underpins your story — I would just feel so helpless and overwhelmed by the layer of anger that accompanies the sadness. There’s no reconciling it, really.

    You have always been so wonderful with words — being able to wrap them around the most perplexing of issues. I pray for you that your words continue to serve you. You mention above that you’ve been able to persuade some innocent people to think twice before undergoing WLS. That’s no small miracle. I hope it provides you a bit of comfort.

    I cannot wish you complete comfort and reconciliation. That’s not meant to happen, I think. But the waves of sadness and outrage may grow further apart and less consuming, perhaps. I guess I hope and pray that you continue to shape a meaningful life in which this tragedy serves as a buttress. You are such a good egg. No one deserves a tragedy like this, but it really pisses me off that it happened to you.

    That is all.

    Reply
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