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Abington Mom Emerges from the Muddy Waters of Obesity and Climbs to Healthier Ground

Three years post-surgery, Amy Millar is fully embracing the very active lifestyle that is now possible. The sport of obstacle racing has now become a major part of her and her family’s lives.

At 32, Abington resident Amy Millar was battling high blood pressure, sleep apnea, migraine headaches, chronic back pain, an unstable knee, acid reflux, and pre-diabetes – all obesity-related medical conditions that resulted from carrying more than 300 pounds on her 5’6” frame.

Amy had struggled with her weight her entire life. She’d been overweight as a child, continued gaining as a young adult, and put on additional pounds with each of her three pregnancies. When she topped out at more than 300 pounds, her health reached a tipping point.

“I remember the moment I finally understood what it meant to be morbidly obese,” says Amy. During a routine visit, Amy’s doctor expressed extreme concern about her health. Amy told him she didn’t have time to care for herself while meeting the demands of a full-time job and mothering three young children with special needs. “The doctor simply asked me who was going to care for them if I had a heart attack or died. Welcome to morbid obesity.”

Through the years, Amy had experimented with many weight-loss techniques – various diets, gym memberships and medications. “I could not lose weight successfully on my own,” she says. After the light bulb moment with her doctor, Amy began to research weight loss surgery online. She attended an information session at Abington – Jefferson Health’s Institute for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (IMBS), then discussed her options in detail with Bariatric Surgeon Kristin Noonan, MD.

Amy chose a procedure known as vertical sleeve gastrectomy (VSG), during which the surgeon divides the stomach vertically and removes 85 percent of it to create a smaller, banana-shaped stomach. “Because the stomach is smaller, patients cannot eat as much food so they consume fewer calories and lose weight,” explains Marguerite Dunham, CRNP, program coordinator.

Prior to surgery, Amy had begun making lifestyle modifications that the IMBS team recommends to help contribute to her long-term success post-surgically. Her family of five joined the local YMCA and also adopted a more nutritious diet and healthier eating habits.

Since her surgery in May 2013, Amy has lost 120 pounds and is healthier and more active than ever before. She no longer needs the five longstanding medications she took daily to manage obesity-related metabolic problems. “This journey was not an easy one,” she advises. “It was slow and difficult, but I was never alone. The IMBS team was with me the whole way.”

She credits IMBS for her striking transformation. “The IMBS team taught me how to use weight loss surgery as one of many tools to save my own life,” says Amy. “I decided I didn’t want to die from obesity.”

While surgery successfully started her weight loss journey, Amy’s active lifestyle has allowed her to continue to keep her weight down. The first time Amy worked out at the YMCA, she took an elevator to reach the second-floor track because she couldn’t walk up one flight of steps. Just four months after surgery, Amy completed the Mudderella – a 6.2-mile muddy run with 15 obstacles. “I climbed over walls, planked across a trench, crawled under wires, and carried a teammate up a hill,” says Amy, who has since completed more than 20 separate 5k, 10k and 15k races.  One of her recent accomplishments has been competing in a brick division 10k where she carried 25 pounds of bricks through the course.  Amy has a lot to be proud of, though she says that her biggest accomplishment has been “fulfilling a goal that many said was impossible— to complete all three distances of the Spartan Race Series, which is one of the most intense race series.” Her trifecta was earned last fall after completing a 17-mile, 35-obstacle course at Killington Ski Resort in Vermont.

She loves obstacle racing, which is not only a major and special part of her life, but also her family’s. “Racing with my husband has been my biggest joy, and the kids have enjoyed their races and training with us,” Amy explains. In fact, obstacle racing has become such a big part of her family’s lives that she and her husband recently renewed their vows while running an eight-mile, 30 obstacle mountain course.  Amy got the chance to wear her wedding dress again, which was resized from size 24 to 12. “I never thought I would be able to overcome my obesity, let alone be able to overcome so much as an obstacle course racer.”

Today, Amy works out regularly at home and at community parks, in addition to participating in races. Daily exercise has become a regular and enjoyable part of her life. She also continues to attend IMBS support group meetings to maintain momentum, stay focused and encourage others.

Amy Millar After Surgery

“This journey has transformed every aspect of my life,” she says. “It has deepened my relationship with my husband and children because I am able to actually live. I don’t have to watch my kids grow up from the sidelines anymore. I can outrun them all.”