Russell’s Story – Just What “The Doctor” Ordered

         Today I would like to introduce you to Russell Simpson, or let him introduce himself. I knew Russ in high school, casually. When I stop to think about it, I knew little more than that he always had a kind smile and a kind word when we crossed each other’s paths. I am fortunate to have been re-introduced to Russ via facebook and as an adult realized I missed a lot by not getting to know him better earlier. Russ is an inspiration. Not just his personal weight loss journey, but his love for his fellow-man, his dedication to his family and the children who he mentors,  and his zest for life. I know that my introduction won’t do him justice, so I will simply encourage you to read Russell Simpson’s story in his own words as printed below. It is a story that moved me to tears. Have your hankies handy.

     Sandee asked me last week to write a few words to tell “my story”. Now, my story is a very long one. There are a lot of factors that lead me to (what I call) my “condition” in March of 2012, and I promise, as long-winded as I am, I will try to condense this down to a manageable read. I also want to warn you all, I will be using terms that in 2012 aren’t exactly politically correct. If that offends anyone, keep in mind that I am talking about myself, and if I’m comfortable with it, then please don’t be offended. I’ve had a bad week of offending people because of my thoughts and beliefs, and I am in no mood to argue… my style of creative writing is, and you’ve been warned, rather unique. I will be speaking both through the eyes of a child, and the eyes of an adult, and I will speak my mind! I know Sandra did not ask me for my “life story”, but honestly, it took a lifetime to get me to this point… so here it goes:

      When I was a child, I was always a fat kid. I admit it! I was always the last one picked for team sports, and the only time anyone was interested in playing with me is if there was a tug-of-war because the fat kid is ALWAYS the anchor! Of course, I had a slobbish, horse of a mother! For as long as I could remember, she was a 300 pound couch potato who would never come out and play with me. She was a single mom, on welfare, and apart from an occasional trip to visit family, the only time I remember her ever leaving the house was to go to pick up her welfare rations or to go to the grocery store. As good as that welfare cheese was, we ate WAY too much of it. And, alas, everything we ate was cooked in lard. In 1974, who knew, right? The only good thing, back then, that I had to say about my mother was that at least she was friendly and loving. Oh, she loved me so much! I never once thought she didn’t. But through a child’s eye, every fat person I met was just the same. They were all so jolly and nice, like my mom…. and I wanted to be JUST LIKE THEM!

     Those are my earliest memories. The way I see it, a kid in that situation doesn’t stand much of a chance to grow up healthy and happy. I was teased, picked on, and down-right bullied. Back then, no one really cared, either! It was LIFE, and you either learned some street smarts and deal with it, or you don’t. I did.

     It took me some years, honestly many years after my mother’s death, to realize her situation wasn’t her fault. In 1977, she was diagnosed with cancer. Not just any cancer, but a brain tumor the size of a grapefruit! It had smothered her thyroid, and her weight gain was mostly due to her medical condition. It was after her death that I saw my first photographs of her when she was in her teens and 20’s, a very lean, beautiful young woman. I was shocked! THAT was my MOTHER? That huge cow that couldn’t even come outside and throw a ball? Needless to say, I was a very confused young boy. Some of you in my 3rd grade class may recall…

     High school was a much happier time. I moved in with Father Jim MacGee, a Catholic Priest from New England who was not only a healthy eater, but an avid outdoorsman. My story takes a very long break here, all I can say is that these were wonderful years for me, I learned how to eat right, how to hike, climb, swim, and MOVE! It was the first time in my life that I realized that I didn’t have to be fat to be jolly, and that the benefits of having a thin, lean body and tons of energy completely outweighed a lifetime of bad habits and substandard beliefs. How quickly we sometimes forget… We will skip to..

     1996-2002: My own, personal health battles began in 1996. I was working for AON corp, and I know some of you are in a job where you travel a lot, drink fine wines and eat at the finest restaurants, and work 70-80 hours a week on the road 52 weeks of the year, often little time to sleep more than 2-3 hours a night. No? Well, I did. That was me! A money grabbing, Junior Executive with ambitions of success like no one you’ve ever seen. But the stress of the work environment, long hours, lack of sleep, and bad eating habits caught up with me, and I developed pneumonia for the first time in my life. The Doctors gave me meds, it would go away, only to come back 2 or 3 months later.

    This embarrasses me to this day, but the pneumonia was so chronic, that I was questioned 100 times from 100 Doctors about my sexual lifestyle, and administered 100 AIDS tests because, in the minds of the Doctors, the only time someone has pneumonia as often as I did had an auto-immune disease, so I must have AIDS. Try telling that to a monogamous, straight, married white man! Insisting upon it! Wonder why I went to 100 doctors, they were all the same and I was so turned off, I still to this day have a hard time going when I need to. Ask my wife… But the bottom line was that all they could do was give me antibiotics and steroids… and the 165 pound executive, over time, turned into a 195 pound tired 30something. I was sick all the time, and most of the time, I was miserable.

    But, “the event” of 2002 changed my life! I became, in a lot of ways, my mother. I started gaining weight (up to about 210), I had no energy, most days I sat on the couch or laid in bed, I lost my career because I just couldn’t go anymore. Cody was 5, and I barely had energy enough to cook for him, let alone play with him. So, I taught him to cook and sent him out with the other kids. Not that teaching him to cook was a bad thing, I had taught Braelyn so it wasn’t anything new, but the way I saw it then, I wasn’t teaching him for the sake of education, I was teaching him out of necessity. I felt as though I was going to die, and who would cook for him when Dad was gone?

     Sierra was born in November, and I barely made it through that first week of having her home. Without a job or anyway to support my family, we were downgraded from a 6 figure salary to welfare and medicaid. THAT saved my life, as embarrassing as it was, and still is, it’s very important to my story.

     Sierra was born on November 14th 2002, and on November 21st or 22nd we were visited by a medicaid home-health nurse to check on Sabrina and Sierra. When she came in, she looked at me and said “are you okay”… I can’t remember much about that day, but I remember telling her I couldn’t take the 20 steps to the mailbox without resting 15 or 20 minutes along the way. I resisted doctors, but she absolutely insisted that I go to the free clinic in Christiansburg to see Dr Robinson. Since I felt she sincerely feared for my life, I took her advice, crawled to my car, and made the trip, solo. Sabrina had a C-section, could not drive, and I wasn’t going to risk my newborn, Cody, or Sabrina by taking them along as I drove. I didn’t think I could make the trip.

     To make a VERY long story shorter, when I arrived at the clinic I found out the nurse had called ahead, and I was seen immediately. That was a whirlwind! Doctor Robinson took my pulse, took my blood pressure reading, checked my oxygen stats, and said to me “I’m calling an ambulance to take you to the hospital”. Now, I’m a hard-headed idiot, the bottom line is I resisted and insisted on driving, his exact words are “if you drive, go straight to the hospital, do not go anywhere else, you are dying, and if you aren’t there in 10 minutes we might not be able to save you…

     The end result of that hospital stay was that I was diagnosed with an unknown auto-immune disease (NOT AIDS, idiots…), I was there for over a week, I missed Thanksgiving with my family, as well as Braelyn’s birthday and Sierra’s second week of life. When the 30th came and I was still in the hospital, I demanded that they release me because I had to see my kid for a birthday party. The Doctor didn’t really want to let me go, but understood and I had recovered enough that I was at least “safe”, but he warned me, on November 30th, 2002… that if I was “lucky, REALLY lucky, I had about 5 years to live…” That date, that time of about 11:30am, that MOMENT… was a game-changer for me!

     When you’re told you have 5 years to live, you have a different perspective on life. Those of you who have been there know this. Those of you who knew me BEFORE, know this. The bottom line is this: I decided that if I had 5 years, I was going to LIVE those 5 years to the fullest. Sabrina started coaching soccer, I’ve had a life-long love of the sport, I soon followed as her assistant. It’s always been a great joy of mine to raise children and to be around children anyway. I took it a step further and kept kids full time, some for days, some for months, some for years… I’ve had custody of so many children I’ve lost count. I became more active in a lot of social events, political events, and community events. I continued to see doctors, and finally a specialist out of Roanoke narrowed down my diagnosis to Sarcoidosis. To save time I’m not going to go into the details of this nasty little disease, but it is auto-immune, it was attacking my lungs on a regular basis, and over the years, I’ve taken a LOT of prednizone, which is commonly known to cause weight gains. With only a few years left to live, I wasn’t to worried about weight. I love food… pizza, fried chicken, pasta, more pasta, even more pasta, steak, anything with cheese or butter or cream. BEER! I really enjoy blaming my meds for ALL of the weight gains. It’s so easy. But, I am a realist. The meds were only part of my troubles. My slobbish eating style became the other. We all have been there, so no need to expand on that. Oh, did I mention BEER! Yes, I see I did! But I did learn, through everything, that life is short. You have GOT to have FUN! You have GOT to LIVE! You’ve got to ignore what we commonly call DRAMA, and be positive. YOU have to help people, and help CHILDREN… sometimes we get so wrapped up in life that we forget the small things, and the kind things, because bad things tend to take over. I decided to LIVE, and when my year came, 2007, I would be dead. But I was going out happy! IT was the one promise I made to myself and trust me, If I died at any given moment, even to this day, I have no regrets! And I lived my life! And I had FUN doing so, and make a lot of people very happy along the way! And boy, did I eat!

     Needless to say, 2007 came and went, and I did not die (and, thank God, we were in a different financial situation). Sarcoidosis works in a really weird way. It went in remission in my lungs, only to show up again in my joints. One morning I woke up, I was crippled, bottom line. To walk, I needed a cain. I preferred a wheel chair, but I looked silly in it.That limited my active lifestyle, and the treatment of steroids went from inhaled to oral, but it’s still the same. I gained weight. It’s funny how you never notice 5 pounds here or 2 pounds there…. but time is the tell-all, and before I knew it, I was obese, between 230-240 pounds.

     Skipping ahead to 2011, I had a rough year. Sarcoidosis comes and goes. As recently as December, I was having severe issues again. I went to Florida to see my son march in the Mini Macy’s Parade at Universal studios. I collapsed a couple of times and my wife begged me to go to the ER, but no WAY I was going to miss my son and his band make their debut on a national platform! So, I suffered through it, and suffered for it.

     January through mid-February of 2012 I spent most of my days in the bed or on the couch. For no reason whatsoever I refused a doctor, I still have boxes of Albuterol, Pulmicort, Prednizone, and, to be honest, sometimes I do better self medicating. A friend gave me antibiotics because my lungs infected really bad, and I self medicated that.

     And it was insanely idiotic of me to do so! I know this, I remind myself of this… But I am me.

     And now….. the meat of this story:

     Earlier this year, Sandra added me to this group because of a discussion about Doctor Who. I’m not going into a lot of details on Doctor Who other than to say on January 23, 1981, the show LITERALLY saved my life. I love The Doctor as if he were my brother or my own child. I know, I know, that’s silly to say about a fictional character, but then again, I do owe the man my life, so why not? And if someone ever wants to talk Doctor Who, I’m THERE!

     When I joined Slimdown, at first it was to reply to a couple of Doctor Who posts. I had no plans and no reason to want to lose weight. I’ve seen groups like this before. I’ve seen infomercials on TV, ads in magazines, and so many before-after pictures that the whole thing was instantly a turn off to me. Yea, you people chat about how much weight you’re going to lose…. I am NOT interested!

     But every Wednesday, I would get notifications of posts… “I lost 2 pounds this week, total of 30,” or “I lost 4 pounds, total of 35”, or “I have lost 60 lbs so far”…

     … and honestly, I said to myself “what DRUGS are these women on??” LOL I didn’t really mean that, of course, but it made me start thinking a couple of things:

1. These are people I know.
2. They are losing weight.
3. I’m seeing before/after photos of people I know, that I’ve known my entire life, and they are not doctored or faked.
4. Soccer season is coming up. I am sick and tired of not being able to run with these kids. Between my eating habits and my drugs, I have become a fat, slobbish, slow, low energy couch potato! OH MY GOD, I’M TURNING INTO MY MOTHER! (Not many men are secure enough to get by with that statement! LOL)
5. I think I need to do something…..

     But folks, it goes so much deeper than all of that. I have struggled, as most of you have, with weight issues my entire life.

     As the cook of the house, I looked at my beautiful wife, and realized she was overweight. I looked at my son, and saw that he was in a growth spurt, but he has been chubby on and off for years.

     And then I said to myself “Self, God has given you so much in your life. He has given you chance after chance, he even extended your life. Self, you are not helping God in this, and look with it’s doing to your wife and your son. THEY have taken on your bad habits! And there are about 100 children who look up to you as a role model, and they’re seeing a fat, jolly old man… and the shape of your body is telling them that it’s okay! I don’t think God would appreciate that. He is giving you a gift, self, and your are abusing it…”

     My friends, that actual conversation with on inside my brain. It would have never happened if I had not read posts and blogs inside this group. This is why I thank you all so very often.

    So, everyone knows that self-evaluation is the hardest thing we can ever do. At least it is for me. It took 42 years of abusing my body in one way or another, to the point that I did not want to even look in a mirror, or a photo, or anything that had me in it. I didn’t want to open up the bottom drawer on my dresser because I knew those clothes didn’t fit. In January, I officially outlived my mother by some miracle. She lived 15,371 days. January 5th of this year, I lived 15,371 days exactly. Please, don’t misunderstand… I loved my mother dearly, but I simply refuse to die and have my children think of me as I thought of her. In her situation, it was not her fault. But as I made every excuse I could, from my illness to my medication, for why I was obese, I realized NONE OF IT MATTERED!

     Because only I can change ME! And I need to do it NOW, before it REALLY IS TOO LATE! Folks, DEATH has ruined many plans. It hit me pretty hard… all this weight, all this food… I was slowing committing suicide! Suicide is so selfish! Too many people expecting me to be here a while…

     But I still wasn’t 100% ready. I needed a game plan!

     So, I set a date, March 20th.

     I told my wife, I told my children, and I told my friends.

     Then I came to the Slimdown group, and if you look back, at the beginning, I asked a LOT of questions. Foods, digital scales, support of all kinds, if I couldn’t find it, I asked for it. Then I set goals… GOALS GOALS GOALS, and I keep my GOALS in front of me every single day! I don’t remember who turned me on to, but that is a wonderful tracking tool.

     Since March 20th, I’ve lost 31.7 pounds. It wasn’t so easy at first; I had to throw out most of my kitchen and start all over. I had to not only change what I eat, I had to change what my family eats, for the most part. I had to change my schedule, all of a sudden I need walking time and exercise time. And I’m so thankful that I have such a supportive family, because exercise time quickly became family time.

     And I have 100 little children and their parents seeing the new me, and asking a LOT of questions. I’ve always been a pretty good role model, but now I’m stepped that up a notch, and inspiring others to do the same.

     My weight is down, my BMI is down, my blood pressure is down, and my body is in so much shock that the Sarcoidosis is in remission, again. There are healthy alternitives to medicine. There is no cure, and only time will tell, but for the moment, raw foods seem to be keeping my body safe from attack. For that, I’m thankful.

     Everyone keeps asking me, “How are you doing this?” The answer is simple.

     My reply… “I changed my eating habits and started to exercise”.

     And I sound like an infomercial! We have all heard “diet and exercise” our entire lives! I have learned the hard way, it really is that simple.

     So, why did I just write a book to say 2 words, “diet and exercise”?

     Simply, for most of us who need, or needed to lose weight and get in shape, for the most part, the only thing stopping you is your mentality. For example, and in closing and summary:

     From the time I was born, I had weight issues. I was fat, on and off, most of my life. I became ill with a deadly disease. I took some medications, lots of them, that worked against my weight.

     But all of that, was no more than my excuse to sit on my couch and lay in my bed and worry about it. “I didn’t want to. It was too hard. I don’t like broccoli. I don’t have time.” I made, and burned through, every last excuse!

     Folks, I’m a dead man walking, yet I have all the time in the world. And in 2 short months, I have completely transformed my body. If I’d done this in 2002, perhaps my health issues the past 10 years would have improved??? Sadly, i will never know the answer to that question. I really don’t care to know, honestly, because I don’t look back.

     If I could offer any advise to those of you reading who haven’t started this journey yet, it would be this:

1. Only YOU can decide it’s time. MAKE THAT DECISION, NO EXCUSES!
2. Don’t be afraid to tell everyone you know, and ask those of us who are doing it… what to eat, when to eat, what to drink, when to exercise… We are all in this together, and we understand! Ask, we will be there for you!
3. Set a start date.
4. Set a weight loss goal.
5. Count your calories! This past week, I’ve had beer, pizza, and chocolate. But I did not once go past my calorie goal! I lost 3.9 pounds. I eat whatever I really want to, but it’s calories and portion control! Just be reasonable, and slowly incorporate healthier foods and choices.
6. MOVE YOUR BODY! Walking will do fine at first. It’s what I do. And, it’s easy!
7. Hold yourself accountable, publicly if possible! Win, lose, or draw, I report in to Slimdown every Wednesday! I love the encouragement!
8. Don’t over do it! You do not have to starve yourself. I don’t! Starving will cause you to drop a lot of weight fast, but you will pay for it when you gain it all back, or when you get really, really sick!
9. Take your time. I’ve been considered Obese since 2007. If I can live with that for 5 years, then I can take 5 years to correct it. I won’t, I will take 8 or 10 months, but the point stands.
10. Do this for LIFE! My final thought. I’ve dieted before, but I realize looking back, I wasn’t really serious. I’ve told my wife, and I will share this with you: Once I reach my weight-loss goal, I will still check in weekly. If I fluctuate more than 5 pounds in either direction, it’s time to readjust. As I said earlier, you will never notice 2 or 5 pounds creep up on you. The next 2-5 will creep up just a quickly. Over time, it adds up. This is a lifestyle change, and the first half of that word is LIFE! For some it will be easier than others, but commit to life. You will live longer, happier, and healthier.

     And finally, HAVE FUN! I am!

     I would like to give a special thank you to Sandra for inviting me to this group, as well as each and every person I’ve met here who have answered questions and supported me since day 1. I really can’t thank you all enough.

     And I thank Doctor Who… once again, the man put me in the right place at the right time, and has once again saved my life!

     Lastly, I would like to thank God for giving me one more chance!


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