‘If one person can learn something from my story, it is worth telling.’

Ellen Davis believes that if people persevere, they can overcome their greatest obstacles. Her belief comes from personal experience: Ellen was morbidly obese for 30 years and her weight had ballooned to more than 500 pounds before she had gastric bypass surgery. She is now in the best health she can remember and thoroughly enjoys her life as a grandmother and hospital volunteer.

Davis, 62, served in the U.S. Women’s Army Corps from 1965-67 and worked as a substitute teacher in Southern Illinois following her military career. Her weight had increased to 350 pounds by the mid-1990s, and she faced both health problems and difficulties with accessibility.  After a fall on black ice in 2001, she was confined to the hospital with no way to exercise, and her weight ballooned to more than 500 pounds.

After gaining approval of coverage from the Veterans Administration, Davis had open gastric bypass surgery on April 17, 2005. Former Washington University bariatric surgeon Valerie Halpin, MD, performed the procedure, and Davis now follows up with J. Christopher Eagon, MD, who leads the Washington University Bariatric Surgery Program at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Full recovery and weight loss took several years for Davis, but at her three-year check up, she had lost 320 pounds. Early on, she underwent physical therapy, and plastic surgeons performed several operations to remove excess skin.

“I am in the best health that I have been in conscious memory,” says Davis. “I am no longer diabetic, I do not have high blood pressure, and my cholesterol is 160.

“Now I can dance, walk and sit in a regular chair. Clothing fits, and I find many things that are stylish to wear.”

Participation in a Barnes-Jewish Hospital support group for patients who have undergone gastric bypass surgery is an important part of Davis’ follow-up. She also recalls the effort required to reach a healthy weight and uses this as a motivation to stay on her dietary regimen.

Davis believes many people make assumptions about those who are overweight without knowing the reasons for their weight gain. “Not every person will appreciate the success I have achieved, but if one person can learn something from my story, it is worth telling,” she says.