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Corporate pilot didn’t let his weight bring him down

Pre-diabetic and weighing 350 pounds, Terry Kelly is flying high after losing 100 pounds with bariatric surgery.

Article Author: Beth Stambaugh

Article Date:

Pilot standing confidently in front of his plane.
Terry Kelly's career as a pilot continues to take off after having bariatric surgery.

Rolling and looping through the sky as a passenger in a single-engine plane was the spark that ignited Terry Kelly’s passion for flying, and he made a career of it.

Fast forward 35 years later and his dream job as a corporate pilot was in jeopardy.

It started with Kelly’s boss, who was concerned about his weight, which had climbed well past 300 pounds. So he made Kelly a wager: If the pilot could lose 100 pounds, he would give him $10,000. “He was concerned about my health and didn’t want to lose me,” Kelly recalled.

If you've tried everything, bariatric surgery may be a viable option. It could save your life.

Then things became real. An annual physical – a requirement for pilots – showed Kelly was in the beginning stage of diabetes. “Diabetes can be a death sentence for a pilot’s career. I was scared. This is a job I love and it’s how I support my family,” he said.

Kelly had always been active and athletic. Motocross racing, body-building, competitive running, cycling, and tennis are just a few of his favorites. As he got older, he got heavier and it became increasingly difficult to do the things he loved.

“I’d get up in the morning and pop three pain relievers, and then three more at night,” he said. “My joints were killing me.” He also developed sleep apnea and had to start using a C-PAP machine.

Like many heavy people, Kelly’s weight had been a rollercoaster most of his adult life. “I would lose 100 pounds, then gain it back; lose it again and gain it back.”

After 10 years of not being able to budge the scale and hitting 355 pounds, Kelly started looking at alternatives. “A good friend had bariatric surgery and lost 150 pounds. So I started reading everything I could and talking to people who had it.”

The pounds were taking a toll on more than just his health; the weight was affecting his confidence, too. “A lot of pilots have that Tom Cruise look – very physically fit – and here I am in my uniform at 350 pounds and the other guys are probably thinking, ‘Wow, that guy’s a pilot?’”

He doesn’t feel that way anymore. After having weight loss surgery at Baptist Center for Bariatric Surgery in May 2016, he’s lost more than 100 pounds and scored the 10 grand from his boss. He’s spreading the word to others and is a regular speaker at Weight Loss Surgery seminars that Baptist holds twice a month.

“I thought having the surgery would be admitting failure,” said Kelly. “I had to let that go. I realized that continuing to live my life at 350 pounds was more of a risk than having the surgery.”

Craig Morgenthal, MD, and Steven Hodgett, MD, at Baptist Bariatrics, perform three types of weight loss surgery – gastric banding, gastric bypass and sleeve gastrectomy, which is what Kelly had. With this procedure, stomach size is reduced by about 80 percent, leaving a banana-shaped sleeve. The portion of the stomach producing the hormone that causes feelings of hunger is removed.

But that doesn’t mean that life after surgery is easy. “Surgery is a tool that helps you lose weight – but you have to do your part with nutrition and exercise,” Kelly said. Food portions can only be four to six ounces at a time, and getting protein and nutrients has to be a priority.

Kelly said he’s more self-confident now and feels much better. Gone are the days of taking six pain relievers and sleeping with the C-PAP machine. The best part is that he’s no longer considered pre-diabetic, so his pilot’s license is no longer in jeopardy.

“I wish I would’ve done this 10 years ago,” he said. His success has spurred others to move forward with bariatric surgery. His mother recently had the surgery and his sister is planning to as well.

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