Manitoba man's life changed by weight-loss surgery

A Manitoba man says his life has been transformed since he underwent a weight-loss surgical procedure that he paid for himself, as he did not qualify for a provincial pilot program.

Keith Doerksen paid $10K for procedure after being rejected for provincial pilot

A Manitoba man says his life has been transformed since he underwent a weight-loss surgical procedure that he paid for himself, as he did not qualify for a provincial pilot program.

Keith Doerksen of Morden, Man., says he has lost about 150 pounds since he underwent vertical sleeve gastrectomy in January 2011.

Doerksen said he had struggled with his weight since elementary school and tried many ways to shed the pounds. He weighed in about 360 pounds before the surgery.

"Life, in my estimation, was going to be short and full of pills and issues around heart [problems] and diabetes," Doerksen told CBC News in an interview.

"I was taking elevators to meetings and sweating over the least bit of exertion," he added.

"I found every sort of diet attempt didn't work and I was extremely, extremely frustrated."

Learned of procedure online

Losing It

Tune in to CBC Radio One, CBC News: Winnipeg and this week for Losing It, a three-part series by reporter Gosia Sawicka about extreme weight-loss options in the province.

On Tuesday, Gosia will speak to the surgeon who performs the vertical sleeve gastrectomy procedure as part of Manitoba Health's pilot program.

Doerksen said despite the exercise regimens and diets, he gained back the weight.

"For a bunch of years, I never looked at the scale. I just was so disgusted," he said.

"No matter what I did, how many things I accomplished, what kind of letters I had behind my name, 'f-a-t' were still the letters I had behind my name."

Then one day, Doerksen went online and discovered vertical sleeve gastrectomy, a new kind of weight-loss surgery that is less invasive than the gastric bypass his mother — who also battled with her weight — had in the 1980s.

"Out of the frustration, out of the desperate need for change, I think I probably typed the words in Google … 'weight loss surgery,' and the world just opened up," he said.

Doerksen also learned that vertical sleeve gastrectomy is offered in Manitoba as part of a pilot program.

'Wrong gender' for pilot program

Hopeful that he could get the procedure close to home and have it covered by Manitoba Health, Doerksen said he applied for the pilot program.

Keith Doerksen and his wife, Colleen, before he underwent the surgery in January 2011. (Submitted by Keith Doerksen)

However, he learned the program currently accepts female patients only.

"I was the wrong gender for the program," he said.

"I was disappointed … it took an option away that I thought was viable and would work well for my family."

So Doerksen and his family cobbled together their savings and borrowed from a line of credit so he could work with a bariatric surgeon in Las Vegas. Not including travel and accommodations, the surgery cost more than $10,000.

"It was scary for me," said Colleen Doerksen, his wife. "You hear worst-case scenarios and you hope that those are not going to happen."

The weekend-long procedure reduced Doerksen's stomach to the size of a banana. The smaller stomach limits the amount of food he could eat by making him feel full sooner.

Doerksen said he was back on his feet within days, and he started losing weight with exercise and a healthy diet.

Took up running

Doerksen said he started running, and he even entered a relay.

"That was amazing. A very proud moment," he said.

Keith Doerksen in a photo taken in December, months after the surgery. (Submitted by Keith Doerksen)

Colleen Doerksen did not undergo surgery, but she has lost 40 pounds in the past year and she no longer has diabetes.

"I think we all eat healthier because of it … higher protein kinds of things, smaller portion sizes," she said.

Colleen added that in the past year, the family has been able to do more things together.

"This past summer, [we went] tubing behind the boat. Keith always drove the boat, and this year he got to go on the tube," she said. "It was amazing to watch his face."

Doerksen said he feels he can do "absolutely anything" these days, as his weight loss has given him a lot of confidence.

"I start running up hills just because. I take stairs to meetings," he said.

As for the Manitoba Health pilot program, Doerksen said he remains on the waiting list in case it is expanded to include men.

However, he said he hopes he will be turned down on the basis that he does not weigh enough to qualify.