Stepping It Up
By Hilary Kraus
Photography by Christian Lee
Six years ago, Dolores A. Surprenant checked herself into Beaufort Memorial Hospital because she was having uncontrollable asthma attacks. Doctors told her she had congestive heart failure, fluid on the lungs, swelling in her legs and her kidneys were shutting down. Leading up to her decision to go to the hospital, Dolores had an infection in her lungs, her house in Beaufort was broken into and she survived an accident while driving her truck.
At the time, Dolores weighed 384 pounds, which was 41 pounds less than her heaviest. “I got up to 425 pounds, that we know of,” said Dolores, who is slightly less than 5-feet tall. “The scale at the doctor didn’t go higher than that.”
Today, Dolores weighs 212 pounds, no longer has heart or kidney complications and walks at least 10,000 steps a day. “There was a time I couldn’t walk from here to there,” Dolores said, pointing to about 20 feet away. “I’d be so out of breath, I’d have to sit down for a half hour.” On this particular day, Dolores had already walked 9,754 steps, as displayed on a pedometer that monitors her steps.
She credits her remarkable turnaround to listening to a former doctor's advice, followed by successful lap-band surgery on Aug. 12, 2009. Months leading to the operation, Dolores attended eight seminars held by bariatric surgeon Dr. Neil McDevitt. The doctor was not willing to do surgery at first because Dolores was a health risk, breathing with the help of an oxygen tank. “With every subsequent visit, she was moving more and her weight was decreasing,” McDevitt said. “She was getting up in the morning and walking on the banks of the Beaufort River, watching the sun rise. And once she started, she just kept on walking.”
Dolores demonstrated her ability to lose weight—slowly shedding 100 pounds over four years. Dr. McDevitt said he felt she could not lose more due to her physical limitations. She was no longer on oxygen and the doctor agreed to perform lap-band surgery as a tool to help control her hunger.
Dolores has stayed her current weight for two years. Her daily diet is about 800 calories, often starting with oatmeal, followed by lean meats or fish and salad. “I’d like to (lose more),” she said. “It’s a mind-set thing and it’s if my body wants to let me do it.” She’s also had a tummy tuck, a breast reduction and a third surgery to remove sagging skin on her arms.
Born and living in upstate New York until age 44, Dolores said she was overweight as a child, and not just “pleasantly pump.” Her weight spun out of control when her second husband, Arthur Surprenant, died in 2000. The couple moved to Beaufort in 1993. “My best friend passed away. What was I going to live for?” Dolores asked. Her days were filled working two menial jobs at a convenient store and a liquor store.”
It was the advice of a doctor that helped jump-start Dolores to leading a better life. Dolores refers to it as three prescriptions: 1. If it’s white, don’t eat it. 2. Walk until the day you die. 3. Don't give up on yourself. The main changes in her diet were no BRPP (rice, bread, potatoes, pasta), Dolores said.
Dolores was semi-strict about following the doctor’s advice, losing 30 pounds, but became 100 percent committed after her hospital scare. “When you’re faced with those kinds of odds, being told you might not make it to 61 if you don’t do something about it, it was easy because I wanted to live by that time,” said Dolores, who was 60 at the time.
Today, Dolores exercises at a gym six days a week, along with daily walking. She also works full time at Fresenius Medical Care in Beaufort. In July, Dolores was asked to retire from her administrative job, only to be asked back one week later when the company realized the 65-year-old employee was next to indispensable.
Dolores also has become an inspiration to others facing similar obstacles and started an invitation-only Facebook group. It provides an avenue for people to express their successes and struggles, as well as arrange mentorships and organize events. She also talked her doctor into joining the group. Dr. McDevitt remains her doctor, although he changed locations from Beaufort to Summerville, 65 miles away from Delores’ home.
“She is the essence of the human spirit. She overcomes—period,” Dr. McDevitt said of Dolores. “The only way you could understand how special she is, is to know her. I thank God that I had the opportunity to be involved in her life and I am better person for knowing her.”
Family: Children Katrina of Fredericksburg, Va.; son Jason of Hudson Falls, N.Y.; and daughter Kelda of Beaufort; three step-daughters; 18 grandchildren; 19 great-grandchildren.
Who is your support team? “My children, a great Fresenius Medical Care education department (her employer) and a great doctor like Neil McDevitt.
Where would you like to travel? “My first trip solo will be to St. Augustine, Fla., for no special reason, just by myself. Next June, it will be to fly to Sardinia, Italy, for my oldest daughter Katrina's wedding.
How long do you want to work? “Until I’m 70. People 65 years old, most of them retire. I don’t know what they’re doing, but whatever it is, I don’t want to do it.”