September 21, 2012

If you talk to anyone who knows Matt Cobern, they will tell you he is simply not the man he used to be.

To be more precise, he is about two-thirds of his former self – thanks to his experience at Saint Luke’s Center for Surgical Weight Loss. Cobern underwent a gastric bypass procedure from John Price, M.D., in June 2009. Fast-forward nine months, subtract 135 pounds, and you now know the short version of Cobern’s life-changing story.

But for Cobern, and the hundreds of other lives forever changed through the efforts of Dr. Price and his staff, the dramatic physical transformation is only an introduction to the tale.

Livin’ large

Cobern, 42, was obviously overweight at 365 pounds. Or at least it was obvious to everyone except Cobern.

A confident and charismatic individual by nature, he was not the type of person to let extra weight hide his personality or impede physical activity. As a busy electrician, former police officer and EMT, he was accustomed to life on the move. He even reserved time and energy to indulge his creative outlets, which included running a karaoke business – of which Cobern was a regular featured performer – and portraying a diverse cast of characters at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival each year. These hobbies are in addition to his love of fishing, hunting and anything related to the outdoors. For Cobern, there was almost nothing that could keep him from enjoying life to the fullest.

“I’ve been a big guy all my life,” Cobern said. “Even at my heaviest, I didn’t feel like I was 365 pounds.”

Cobern admits he relished being the “big guy.” Even upon graduating high school, he stood solid at 215 pounds. But as the years rolled by, the pounds gradually crept on. Because of his demanding job and on-the-go lifestyle, his meal choices nearly always favored fast-food restaurants and high-calorie comfort foods. He used to pride himself on being able to devour 23 tacos during a Taco Tuesday special. Looking back, Cobern calculated his daily caloric intake somewhere between 8,000 and 9,000 – more than four times what is considered a healthy amount. Needless to say, the years of overindulgent eating eventually began to take their toll.

“I got to my mid-30s and started packing it on,” Cobern said. “Food became an addiction. Some people have addictions to alcohol or cigarettes, but when food becomes your comfort and the thing that makes you feel good – it is your addiction.”

The turning point

For Cobern, the decision to do something about his weight resulted from a series of last straws. Because of his continued weight gain, routine tasks became daily obstacles: Walking up steps, doing household chores and even getting out of bed turned into labored activities. But the final turning point came during a summer trip to Worlds of Fun with his family. He was getting ready to experience one of the amusement park’s featured rides, but when he attempted to pull the safety restraint over his shoulders, he realized he was too big for it to lock in place.

“They came over and said ‘sorry sir, if you can’t click it into place, you can’t ride the ride,’” Cobern said. “That was probably one of the most embarrassing things I ever had happen to me. I couldn’t even ride a roller coaster with my kids.”

Cobern became determined to lose the excess pounds. And like most people who embark on weight loss resolutions, he initially became trapped on the rollercoaster of fad dieting. After trying and failing with nearly every popular diet plan, the prospect of reaching a healthy weight grew increasingly daunting. But he soon learned that two of his wife’s co-workers had undergone weight loss surgery from Dr. Price and experienced tremendous success. Their testimonies were convincing enough for Cobern, who set up a meeting with Dr. Price and his staff to find out if the surgical weight loss option could also be the answer he was searching for.

“Right off the bat, I felt comfortable with Dr. Price and his entire staff,” Cobern said. “They were all like family from the very beginning. They are just good people.”

The procedure

After a thorough evaluation, Dr. Price determined that a Roux-en-Y gastric bypass was the best procedure for Cobern – a surgical process that reduced his stomach to a 1-ounce pouch. The result was a decreased sense of hunger and less required food intake. For Cobern, and others who undergo the surgery, that meant having to change eating behaviors to suit the greatly reduced stomach capacity. But thankfully, Dr. Price and his staff conduct extensive follow-up treatment with each patient to coach them on adapting a new dietary lifestyle.

“You really have to forget your old habits,” Cobern said. “You can’t just throw something down anymore because you’re in a hurry. I had to learn a new way of eating, but the nutritionist on staff was a big help with that.”

‘You get your mojo back’

Cobern said undergoing weight-loss surgery was not an easy decision to make. But after talking with Dr. Price’s staff and learning the details of the procedure and the level of support he would receive, he knew it was the best option. And since undergoing the surgery, Cobern is — in many ways — a new man. His cholesterol is no longer an issue, he is relieved of sleep apnea, and he now shops for size 36 pants instead of 48.

Now, Cobern looks forward to activities that, due to his former size, he had to abandon years ago. One of them, he said, is going back to face that rollercoaster. And this time, he plans to enjoy the ride.

“This summer, we’re going,” Cobern said with great enthusiasm. “I loved roller coasters when I was a kid, and I’m going to get on a rollercoaster again. I won’t be taking the little things for granted anymore.”