By Justin Mitchell The Sun Herald
The year 2013 was a life-changing year for Christina Lawless.
She graduated from the nursing program at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in May, landed a job as a nurse at Memorial Hospital at Gulfport and got engaged to her longtime boyfriend, Chris Hendry.
Her biggest accomplishment of the year, however, was losing nearly 130 pounds.
In November 2012, Lawless, of Kiln, had weight-loss surgery, and she said the results have been astonishing. Before surgery, she weighed 329 pounds. She rang in 2014 at 202 pounds.
Lawless, 24, said she has been heavy her entire life.
"I've always been big," she said. "I've tried every diet under the sun."
Frustrated, she decided to start looking at other weight-loss options in early 2012.
Lawless said she wanted to waste no time in making a commitment for a healthier lifestyle.
"With me being so young, my weight hadn't affected my health," she said. "If I could get it under control now, I wouldn't have the health problems later."
Lawless said a friend told her to look into weight-loss surgeries, specifically the vertical-sleeve gastrectomy, more commonly known as the "sleeve."
She started her research on obesityhelp.com where she read and replied to message boards. After talking to others about the weight-loss surgery, Lawless consulted a physician.
She attended a free class her doctor offered weight-loss surgery. She and her doctor decided the "sleeve" would be the best option.
She said a vertical-sleeve gastrectomy involves cutting off much of the stomach and stapling it back to look almost like a cube. The "sleeve" doesn't bypass intestines, and the valve on the bottom of the stomach isn't removed.
"I liked the fact that I would keep the valve on the bottom of my stomach," she said. In order for her surgery to be covered, her insurance provider required her to participate in a weight-loss plan for four months to prove she was serious and mentally able to undergo a major surgery.
Lawless made a diet plan with her doctor and a nutritionist and lost 19 pounds.
"My nutritionist made a plan of what I should and shouldn't eat that I stuck with," she said.
Lawless's insurance provider covered 90 percent of the surgery. Her surgery cost about $15,000, of which she paid $1,500.
The big day
Lawless went under the knife Nov. 20, 2012.
She was in nursing school at the time, but had the surgery on Thanksgiving break.
"I did it on a Tuesday and had a whole week to recover," she said.
Lawless had the surgery in Ocean Springs and recovered at her parents' home in Kiln.
"My parents were 100 percent supportive," she said.
Lawless said recovery was fairly easy and she is happy the results.
She said her stomach now "looks like a banana.".
"I felt like it was the right decision for me," she said.
New lease on life
Lawless said her body has totally transformed since her weight-loss surgery.
Now lighter by 129 pounds, Lawless went from wearing a size 28 pants to a size 14 or 16. She used to wear a 3XL shirt, and those now swallow her.
"I can fit into large or extra-large shirts now," she said.
Lawless said shopping used to be depressing.
"I'd find something I'd like but it wasn't in my size, so I'd have to find something in a bigger size," she said. Now, she spends a solid amount of her income on clothes.
"Shopping is fun," she said. "I can actually go into a store that's not designated just for plus-sized women and find clothes that actually fit me."
Lawless said she feels healthier since she's lost the weight.
Before the surgery, she said, she suffered from back and foot pain while doing clinicals at hospitals during nursing school. She would get out of breath easily.
Now, she works 12-hour shifts as a nurse and feels great.
"I can get around easily and don't get out of breath," she said.
After the surgery, she joined a Dead End Fitness, a CrossFit gym in Diamondhead, to gain muscle tone and stay in shape.
She attended CrossFit classes for two months, but gall bladder issues forced her to stop.
Lawless had gall-bladder surgery in November and said she is rejoining the gym as part of her New Year's resolution.
"I gained so much muscle mass in the two months I did CrossFit," she said. "I can already tell it's gone, and I want it back."
She said she enjoys CrossFit because the workout is different every day and can be adjusted to her fitness level. Lawless has no regrets about having the surgery.
"I have more confidence now," she said. "It radiates off me. When I go out, I always have a smile on my face."