Three members of a West St. Louis County family knew the medical problems and struggles of obesity all too well before undergoing weight loss surgery in late 2011. Nine months later, they had achieved a combined weight loss of more than 400 pounds and supported each other closely as they continued their follow-up with the Washington University Weight Loss Surgery Program.

Mike Caldwell, 47, a logistics/distribution manager for a Harley-Davidson giftware products company, recalls he had struggled with weight problems for all of his adult life and weighed as much as 444 pounds. He had lost considerable weight with diet programs, only to gain it back, and had considered weight loss surgery about 10 years ago, but was concerned with the risks of open surgery.

Mike’s knees and right shoulder hurt almost all the time, and he suffered from high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. Once a recreational softball player, he was confronted with his poor physical condition when he tried to demonstrate the correct way to do a pushup to one of his sons, and couldn’t. That provided the impetus to attend a seminar by Washington University weight loss surgeons, and with laparoscopic surgery now an option, Mike moved forward.

After deciding to go ahead with the surgery, Mike was proactive and lost 70 pounds before he underwent the procedure. He weighed 340 pounds on the day of his gastric bypass operation in November 2011, and has since lost about 111 pounds. At 6 feet 3 inches, Mike weighed in at 229 pounds nine months later and was nine pounds from his goal.

Weight loss surgery became a family affair when the oldest Caldwell son, Mike, 19, who weighed 485 pounds, also decided he had had enough of pain and being physically inactive. Shelly Caldwell, 46, wife and mother, who weighed about 385 pounds, followed suit after years of dieting attempts, sore feet and ankles, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

Originally, the Caldwells all decided to undergo laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy, a type of weight loss surgery that has come into greater use in recent years. When father Mike decided instead on gastric bypass, son Mike considered changing his procedure, but was unable to do so without delaying the operation. Shelly also elected to stay with a sleeve gastrectomy because the dietary guidelines were not quite as restrictive as those of a gastric bypass.

A Washington University bariatric surgeon performed the operation on both Shelly and son Mike in December 2011. The sleeve gastrectomy typically results in less weight loss than the gastric bypass, but Shelly, 5 feet 2 inches, was down to 295 pounds, and son Mike, 5 feet 11 inches tall, weighed in at about 345 pounds in August 2012.

Weight loss surgery for the Caldwells has meant a dramatic change in eating habits and lifestyle – including regular attendance at support groups offered by Washington University weight loss surgeons – but is well worth it in the eyes of father, mother and son. Father Mike no longer has diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol and works out at the gym and the local high school, running a circuit that includes stairs, just as high school athletes do. Shelly finds work at Guidebook Publishing Company easier, walks regularly and has seen improvements in her blood pressure and blood sugar. Son Mike experiences less pain and is more active as he works and considers his options for the future.

The three family members agree that the surgery and steps they’ve taken have improved their outlook on life.

“People have a lot of questions about the surgery,” says father Mike. “Is it safe? Am I going to like it? I would do it again in a minute. The only regret I have is not doing it sooner.”