Have faith in your journey. Everything had to happen exactly as it did to get you where you are going next.” Mandy Hale
I met Thaddeus LaBranche this January, when Thadd was asked by his surgeon at University of Chicago Medicine, to join him on The Community Health Focus Hour, a weekly program on WVON1690 radio. The discussion centered on research showing that bariatric surgery was a tool in curing diabetes in the morbidly obese. Thadd was such an inspiring guest that I wanted to learn more about him. Through conversations and emails he shared his journey to health as a spiritual awakening.
Thadd is a 49-year-old African American man, raised in West Chatham, a community on Chicago’s south side. Growing up he excelled sports where being large and strong are attributes. After high school he attended McMurray College, in downstate Illinois, eventually returning to Chicago and transferring to Olive Harvey College before eventually graduating from Robert Morris College.
“I joined the Navy and was married between 1990 and 94 but the marriage crumbled and we divorced. Eleven years later, we remarried but the reconciliation was short-lived. I agonized emotionally and food was where I sought comfort,” says the reflective soft-spoken man. Thaddeus, whose name in Aramaic, the language from which Hebrew and Arabic sprang means “praise,” has spent much of his life responding to non-affirming names. His middle name Tony, was amended to distinguish him from the other neighborhood Tonys. He became the “Fat Tony.” As he got older Thaddeus was called “Fatteus.” Retrospectively, Thadd realizes that as he looked into the mirror he internalized those names.
Words and labels are powerful, as I unearthed Thadd’s story, I reflected upon my own childhood friend, a perpetually smiling, chubby boy nicknamed “Fat Jackson.” He, like Thaddeus, struggled with his weight, eventually becoming a diabetic, escalating to kidney dialysis, and finally dying a little over a year ago of diabetic complications. The reality is that negative labels like fat, ugly, stupid etc., affect our lives and obscure self-discovery. Consider the good we could do by using affirming labels.
Thaddeus at his largest.
By 1997 Thadd, at 5”9 weighed 350 lbs. A diabetic friend suggested to Thadd that he might be diabetic. He performed the glucose test on Thadd and found that his blood sugar registered very high. That home glucose test sent Thadd to a doctor where he was diagnosed as a type II diabetic and immediately prescribed insulin.
Statistically African Americans have a 60% greater chance
of getting type II diabetes than whites
After the diagnosis, even with insulin controlling the diabetes, Thadd continued to struggle with his weight. Between 2006 and 2013, which he calls, the darkest part of his journey, Thadd weighed 404 lbs. Frustrated, he decided that weight loss surgery was the best option to bring his weight to a level that would allow him to more effectively exercise.
There are several types of weight loss surgery, and after researching options Thadd chose the minimally invasive bariatric gastric sleeve procedure that restricts the amount of food that can be eaten. To qualify for the sleeve surgery, a person has to be at least fifty pounds over the “normal” weight range for their height. Thadd, more than qualified for the procedure and with faith and prayer he embraced this phase of his journey.
During the journey
These days the formerly rotund Thadd is barely recognized by the friends who called him “Fat Tony.” While the average weight loss through the bariatric sleeve procedure is 60 lbs., Thadd has shed 179 pounds! His current weight is 225 lbs.
He continues to release weight through a regular exercise program that includes aerobics and weights. His food selections have shifted to include more vegetables and he no longer lunches on steak, fries, most often ordering a salad and soup.
“Sometimes my friends say, ‘Man don’t you have cheat days?’ Thadd quickly adds, “When I cheat, I am cheating myself.”
Thadd’s journey to find his authentic self has surpassed the expectations of his family, friends, and his surgeon. His commitment has yielded results. Thadd is no longer a diabetic!
“My life has taken many twists and turns,” says Thadd. “Through it all I’ve remembered my late mother’s words, “Always look for the good in everything.”
These days Thadd looks everywhere for inspiration including books, and like-minded people.
“I want to use my story to help others. I have rededicated my life to the Lord. I’m not a mess, I’m a masterpiece in progress.”
– Susan D. Peters