The display on the scales read “379”.

“I cried when I saw that number,” said Debbie Gerardi of North Apollo, who was hospitalized for back surgery in February 2018. “I thought, ‘How did I get here?’ I was so tall that the nurses had difficulty finding a vein in my arm for an IV, so they had to stick it down my throat. “

This situation became a life changing moment for Gerardi.

It motivated her to move, she said.

“When I saw that number (on the scales), my husband said, ‘You look sick. Are you worried about the operation? ‘ I was, but I was more concerned about the number, ”she said.

She turned that worry into lost pounds – 173 of them.

Her path to a healthier lifestyle came after healing from back surgery.

Make a change

After a few calls, her family doctor recommended Bariatric and Metabolic. from Allegheny Health Network Institute. Gerardi said AHN plans to create a campaign about their trip.

“AHN Bariatrics is so supportive,” she said. “They tell you about your options. It wasn’t an easy path, but it was worth it. I hope the people reading my story will be inspired to take control of their health and take time for themselves. It’s okay to ask for help losing weight, and it’s never too late to change your life. “

Gerardi had gastric bypass surgery on August 15, 2018.

The operation involves shrinking her stomach, severing the small intestine, and attaching the lower end of the small intestine to the newly created small stomach pouch, according to AHN. Individuals are eligible for surgery if they have a body mass index, a measure of body fat based on height and weight, of 35 or higher.

“I was about to turn 40 and that was my gift to me,” said Gerardi, mother of son Anthony (14) and a daughter Sophia (11). “I was ready to do this. It was a wake up call. I had my whole life ahead of me.”

The weight loss surgery, along with regular exercise and a diet high in lean protein and limited carbohydrates, enables Gerardi to do things she never could before. She walks two miles a day and does 45 minute ellipticals three times a week.

She can ride a bike with her kids and isn’t afraid of not fitting in the seats on rides in Kennywood Park the way she was when she was taller.

“I put my health first so I can do something with my family,” said Gerardi, who takes vitamins to give her extra nutrients.

Courtesy Debbie Gerardi

Debbie Gerardi (left) from North Apollo with her son Anthony (14), daughter Sophia (11) and husband Chris.

Idol

Gerardi is a role model and an example of how not to succumb to being overweight, said Dr. George Eid, systems chairman of the Allegheny Health Network’s Bariatric and Metabolic Institute, who performed her surgery. “Not only to accept it and live with it, but to strengthen others and to set a good example. Debbie lives in other people’s shoes. Some will say that this is the easy way out, but it’s not the easy way out, it’s the effective way out. “

Eid said there were misconceptions about being overweight. The number of obese people has doubled in the past two years, he said. According to the Centers for Disease control, In 2019, 33.2% of Pennsylvania adults self-reported to be obese.

“We need more awareness,” said Eid, who has performed more than 7,000 surgeries in his two decades of medicine. “We have to take care of this problem and make life better.”

He said Gerardi did and is still doing the work to change her life. She embodies the message he wants to convey that there is no shame in asking for help.

He compared obesity to being like a person who fell into a hole. They most likely cannot get out on their own, but if something like a ladder helps them they can climb the steps to reach the top.

With the advancement of medicine, the operation is safer. It requires small incisions. Many patients go home the next day. There can be side effects, but being overweight can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes, he said.

Obesity is a chronic disease. It’s not like smoking where you can stop smoking. People need food to live. He also said that in addition to the physical healing of the surgery, AHN also takes into account the mental and emotional sides of the patient and works with the patient.

Gerardi, 42, said looking back on her life that she was active as a teenager. But as an adult, she worked crazy hours and didn’t eat right.

When she was pregnant with her daughter, she broke three discs in her back. Gerardi was operated on in 2009 in the 23rd week of pregnancy.

When the second back operation was due in 2018, she knew that she had to do something about her weight.

Participation in the pageant

Losing weight helped her gain confidence so much that when friends suggested she enter a competition, she decided to do it. Her last competition was in Georgia in June at a pageant called Ms. Reigning American. It is now called the National United International Elite.

She said she loved the pageant messages of equality, empowerment and empathy.

In her interview, she said she would choose empathy first because “society is too busy to argue about our differences and not listen to each other”.

She won both the Ms. Supermodel and Ms. Top Model categories for ages 25 and older from 17 entrants. Her prize package included $ 5,000 and a cruise to the Bahamas. It is about more than money, travel and the crown for Gerardi, she said.

She has published her weight journey as well as her progress at the festival Instagram and Facebook.

She said she particularly enjoys the volunteer side that comes with the mission of winning a competition. She is involved in organizations such as lasagne love, The Kneading community coffee shop, Play it forward Pittsburgh and Read Across America.

“I’m not a pageant person,” said Gerardi, who works as an accountant for Giant Eagle. “It wasn’t on my bucket list. But it helped me with my courage to show myself out there. And it is important to me to be able to give something back through volunteer work. “

She, her mother Nancy Anthony from Kiski Township, and Sophia attended the pageant for a girls’ outing. Along with her husband Chris Gerardi and Anthony, they were there for her every pound she lost.

“My husband holds me down and tells me he loves me for who I am,” she said. “My children always tell me to follow my dream as I tell them all the time. And my mother was my rock in all of this. She is an amazing woman. You all helped me with this second chance in life. And I want to be there for you. “

She said the most important thing is to stay positive.

“I’m trying to drown out the negativity,” she said. “It takes willpower. It’s a lifelong commitment. I can do without ice cream and I agree to that. I look back at all these old photos and realize that every day is a gift. “

One of her most memorable moments on the weight loss journey was when her son hugged her.

“My arms can hug you when I hug you,” she said, her son told her. “That put everything into perspective. Yes, there were tears reminding me of the importance of my health and my family and that I never wanted to see 379 pounds on the scales again. ”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a contributor to Tribune Review. You can contact JoAnne at 724-853-5062, [email protected] or via Twitter .