Name: Gretchen Wood
Residence: Decatur, TX
Job: Owns a residential house cleaning business
Marital status: Married
Peak weight: 298 pounds
Current weight: 150 pounds
Gretchen Wood started her life battling health problems. She was born with underdeveloped kidneys, and her doctors told her parents she might not survive. If she did, she would eventually need a kidney transplant.
At age 13, her health problems worsened — she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. “I became really angry with God. Why would he choose this for me?” she says. In early adulthood she started to gain weight. “I wasn’t exercising. I wasn’t eating right. I was being 20,” she says.
She had some success losing weight with Weight Watchers and exercise, but when she stopped, the weight came back. In her late 20s she dropped from a size 18 to a size 10 with Herbalife, but decided she didn’t want to drink shakes and take supplements for the rest of her life, along with taking insulin for her diabetes. “The weight came back with a vengeance,” she says. “I became depressed, and I turned to food for comfort. I turned to the exact thing that was making me fat.”
HEALTH PROBLEMS WORSEN
In 2003 she noticed a worrisome symptom — her thighs felt like they were burning. She mentioned it to a friend who was a dialysis nurse and her friend started to tear up. She recognized it as a sign that Wood’s kidneys were failing. “I thought, ‘well at least I made it to age 37’,” Wood says.
She needed dialysis, three times a week for four hours at a time. She centered her life around it, doing her errands, laundry and housework the day after, when she had enough energy. “The day before dialysis and the day of I was just wiped out,” she says.
“At this point in my life I turned back to God. I put my full faith and trust in him. I knew I would either live by a machine for years to come or he would take me when it was time. I was at peace with either,” she says.
THE GIFT OF A SECOND CHANCE
After three months of dialysis, Wood got an amazing gift — a kidney transplant. Secretly, her brother had gone through the process of finding out if he could donate a kidney. “He didn’t tell me anything because if he was not a match he didn’t want me to be disappointed. I was just in tears. I was hugely thankful and overwhelmed. It was the greatest gift he could give me,” she says.
She had the transplant surgery in May 2004. “It brought out the fighting spirit in me,” she says. “I got a second chance at life, and I was going to do it right. I was going to find the skinny woman again.”
12 YEARS OF WEIGHT GAIN
But depression — a potential side effect of the antirejection medications she had to take — struck again. And the drugs can also contribute to weight gain. Over the course of 12 years Wood’s weight climbed up to 298 pounds.
“I gave up on the idea that I would ever be a size 10 again. I would look at myself and cry. I didn’t like the way I looked. I was uncomfortable and embarrassed. I thought, ‘Well, this is the path God created for me. I’m going to be a fat girl’,” she says.
FINDING THE FIGHTER WITHIN
By the summer of 2016 she was ready to make a change. “I got on my knees and prayed to Jesus. He told me he created me to be a fighter and I could do whatever it took to be the wonder woman I could be,” she says. “It really changed my mind. I went from focusing on ‘Wah, wah, wah, poor me’ to “I’m going to find the thin girl and the fighter in me. I know she’s there’.”
Wood researched weight-loss surgery and decided that the sleeve procedure — where your stomach is surgically reduced to a smaller size — was the right choice for her. “I had tried most everything else, but I always gained the weight back. This is a much more permanent method. It forces me to eat less,” she says.