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Every morning, Mark Learner of Stow braves the rain and heat to walk four miles around town because four years ago he wasn't able to. Before his bariatric surgery, Learner weighed 800 pounds and lived in a nursing facility.
"It was like sitting at a parade and watching the parade go by," Learner said. "I was a spectator sitting in this wheelchair watching life go by. Everybody thought I wanted this. Well I didn't want this."
Learner gained weight in his 30s after he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation — or an irregular heart rate, which caused him to develop high blood pressure ‚— and diabetes that also runs in his family. He wasn't always this sick. In high school, Learner, now 52, weighed 240 pounds, was a football athlete and could run a six-minute mile, he said.
"The thing that gets me the most is how people can judge somebody because they're overweight and they assume your fat because you ate too much," Learner said. "I went from walking to a walker to a wheelchair when I started having health problems."
Once he was bound to a wheelchair and could no longer exercise, it wasn't hard to gain the weight. He recalled a time his knee joints had gotten so bad he needed the fire department to help him out of the pool.
"Going from 260 to 800 pounds was like I died and was reborn into another person's body and then going from that heavy to a normal person, that's a lot," he said. "I've gotten staph infections that almost killed me and internal bleeding a few times. I've come so close to dying it's not even funny. That's why my doctor considers me his miracle."
It was when a cardiologist told him he was dying that he decided to turn his life around. His heart rate was 245 beats a minute. He's even surprised his heart made it.
"He took me on as his patient, but he made me completely understand if that 'You work with me, you will do what I tell you or you're out of here because I can't save your life if you do not listen to me.'"
Learner had to lose more than 100 pounds to prove he didn't have an eating disorder before he could have the surgery. It's a mobility problem, he said.
"What people don't understand is you can eat good food, but if you can't exercise you will gain weight," Learner said. "This is why it's so important for me to keep moving."
After his surgery, Learner had to learn to how to eat again.
"They took 80 percent of my stomach and you have to take tiny bites and sip," he said. "Then I had to learn what I can and can't eat. You have to eat a lot of stuff that's baked and broiled."
Today, Learner is 340 pounds and doing things he hasn't been able to do in years, such as walking and fishing.
"It's fantastic," Learner said. "I can breathe easier. I don't get so tired. That's why I like going out early in the morning because you get that good crisp air in your lungs. It makes you feel more alive when you can get out and do things."
Learner will see a third plastic surgeon this month. He's hoping to have an excess skin surgery, so he can replace his bad shoulder and knee joints. That will give him more mobility and allow him to lose more weight.
"It's frustrating when you go from 800 pounds down to 340 and then there's other things that get in the way to stop the progression," Learner said. "Even though I'm out walking and I'm losing weight and keeping it off, for me to be able to improve my cardio that can't be achieved until these joints are replaced and the skin has to be removed first."
It's finding out what life is going to be like in the end that keeps him motivated.
"I went from so big I couldn't walk to where I can walk four miles and maybe a year down the road I'll be doing something I haven't done in years," Learner said. "It's seeing how far I can take this and the outcome of it. Of course, I get frustrated, but being able to play with my buddies' grandkids and just not wanting to does helps. I'm still young. I still have a long life to live."
good for you buddy!!! best wishes!! to a long andf happy life