Paul Konnik had always been a big person, and his weight helped him when he played college football. But when he settled into adult life weighing as much as 395 pounds, he knew he had to make a change.

Konnik, who is 6 feet tall, remembers being mistaken at the age of 13 for a much older teenager because of his size. When he played as an offensive lineman for the American International College football team in Springfield, Mass., he weighed approximately 345 pounds.

“Once college football was over, I became more severely overweight because I was still eating the same way,” says Konnik. “Before my surgery, I had gone on some different diets and seen dietitians. A couple of times, I lost 100 pounds through diet and exercise only to gain it back shortly thereafter.”

After attending college, Konnik moved to Missouri in 2001 because of his job as a national account manager. He traveled a lot and felt embarrassed that he required a seatbelt extension and took up so much space in airplane seats. On vacation, he missed out on activities, such as riding an ATV or hiking, because of his weight.

At the age of 27, Konnik had high blood pressure but still did not have the extensive health problems that often accompany morbid obesity. But he decided to be proactive, both to regain a normal life and to have a better chance at a healthy future. He saw Washington University bariatric surgeon J. Christopher Eagon, MD, and made up his mind to undergo gastric bypass surgery.

Eagon performed the operation in March 2008 at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital. Konnik had no serious complications and closely followed the dietary regimen given to him by the surgical weight loss team. By November 2008, his weight was down to 195 pounds, and he has maintained this healthy weight since then.

Participating in the Barnes-Jewish Hospital support group for patients who have undergone gastric bypass surgery helps Konnik stay on track and has provided an additional bonus: he met fiancée Robin Leach at a group meeting, and her support has been especially beneficial. Robin underwent gastric bypass surgery three years ago, and together they cook and dine together as an important part of their relationship.

“Frankly, the year following my surgery was a life-changing year for me,” says Konnik. “I had the surgery and met the person I consider the love of my life because of the surgery.”