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I Got Healthy for My Kids

"I lost more than 100 pounds"
Sherry Gates High; Edmond, Oklahoma

I was always a big girl -- in high school, I blacked out the tag on my Levi's so no one could tell what size I wore. But I was also really active. Once I started working, I kept gaining weight and was always on a diet. Before my daughter, Kaitlyn, was born, I managed to lose 80 pounds, but I gained it back plus 20 more. After I had my son, Jordan, I weighed 271 pounds -- and I'm only 5'5". I was constantly embarrassed about my weight. One of the worst times was on a business trip, when I realized that the seat belt on the plane wouldn't fit. The stewardess had to bring me a seat-belt extender.

The more weight I gained, the harder it was to be a normal, active mom. I'd gotten to the point where I'd want the kids to watch TV because that was easier than taking them outside to play. I was so big that if I got down on the floor with them, the only way I could get up was to roll over onto my hands and knees. So when one of my clients had gastric-bypass surgery, she inspired me to have it. The day of the surgery, I weighed 281 pounds. Today, I'm down to 160 pounds. I recently had an abdominoplasty in order to remove all my excess skin -- I finally have a waist!

The hardest part of recovering from obesity was dealing with the psychological aspects of overeating, and realizing why I ate so much in the first place. I make a point of talking about this all the time with my kids, now 8 and 6. I teach them about good nutrition, and my husband, Phillip, and I make sure we always have healthy food in the house. I still have some of my "fat-girl complex" -- it's hard for me to take a compliment -- but the surgery has given me new confidence.

Learn more: Consider the pros and cons of gastric-bypass surgery at the National Institutes of Health's site: win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/gastric.htm.

"I got my diabetes under control"
Judith Hernandez; Miami, Florida

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 12. Even then, my biggest dream was to have a family, and I worried that diabetes would prevent me from living a normal life. I gave myself two to three insulin injections a day, and my diabetes was pretty well controlled. But stress can affect glucose levels, and when I was in college, my glucose levels became less stable -- that was scary. If I skipped meals or ate the wrong foods, they could skyrocket, making me very tired and thirsty, and putting my health at risk.

After getting my degree in engineering, I started working at a very demanding job that had crazy hours and lots of international travel. Even before I got married, I knew that if I wanted to have children some day, I would have to get better at managing my illness. So I went on the insulin pump -- a device about the size of a pager that I attach to my stomach. It gives me varied doses of insulin over the course of the day depending on what I eat, and it really helped get my glucose levels under better control.

Still, pregnancy can be risky for women who have diabetes. Fortunately, both of my sons, Roberto, 5, and Andreas, 2, were born full-term and healthy. After Roberto was born, however, I started getting anxious when I had to travel. I took my first trip when he was just 4 months old. And I hated my 45-mile daily commute. I knew that the hectic pace could make my diabetes worse, so I decided to make a career change. Now I work for a university, and my schedule is much more reasonable. I still struggle to deal with the pressures of balancing kids and work, but my husband, Gilberto, is a real help.

I do finger-stick glucose tests on the boys. There's a genetic component to type 1, but their chance of getting type 2 is greater, and Hispanics are also at a higher risk. I check my own blood eight times a day -- and I'm proud of the fact that I have zero complications from my diabetes. My biggest dream is to live a long, healthy life so I can get to see the boys grow up, graduate, and get married.

Learn more: For ways to reduce complications, go to the American Diabetes Association's Web site, diabetes.org.

"I finally quit smoking!"
Patty Deering; Chicago, Illinois

I remember swiping cigarettes from my grandmother when I was 16, and by the time I'd graduated from high school, I was a real smoker. The only times I can remember not smoking were when I was in the hospital giving birth to my children, who are now 13, 9, and 4. I knew I shouldn't smoke while I was pregnant, but I did each time. I'd hide in the kitchen. My husband, Robert, had been a smoker too, so he knew. We were very lucky -- I realized that smoking could cause my babies to have low birth weights, but thankfully, they were all fine. I still can't believe I exposed them to that risk. When they were little, I rationalized that smoking outdoors -- even in the rain and the freezing cold -- protected them from secondhand smoke. It got harder as soon as they were old enough to get on my case. Robbie and Jamie would steal my cigarettes or circle the warning label. Even though I knew they were just trying to say "I love you and don't want you to die," I'd get mad and say, "Give Mommy back her cigarettes!"

The hardest thing was watching Jill, my little one, pick up a pencil and pretend to smoke. That was heartbreaking. So when my office sponsored a "Quit even if you don't want to quit" program run by Northwestern Memorial Hospital, I decided to sign up. The structure of the program -- which included an ultralow dose of an antidepressant the first week, as well as a small nicotine inhaler and a support group -- gave me the motivation I needed. I haven't had a cigarette since May 2004.

Learn more: To find a smoking-cessation program near you, go to the American Lung Association's site, lungusa.org.

"After my heart attack, I changed everything"
Lee Silverman; Scottsdale, Arizona

In August 2001, I was with my wife, Amy, and sons on vacation in New York. We had stopped at a store, and Amy had gone inside with Matthew, who was 3, while I stayed out in the parking lot with Jack, who was 1. I'd been struggling with terrible chest pain all week, which I thought was heartburn. All of a sudden, the pain was incredible, and I couldn't breathe. I fell down on the ground, and by the time Amy and Matthew came back, a crowd had gathered. It was awful. Jack, who was in his car seat, was screaming. I'd had a massive heart attack. When a blood clot went to my brain, I had a stroke on the way to the hospital.

I didn't know how sick I was. A few days later, I was complaining to a nurse. He got tough on me and pointed to pictures of my kids that my wife had set up around my bed. "See them? If you don't rest now and stop fussing, you're going to die. Your wife will remarry, and those boys will grow up calling someone else Daddy." That's when I realized how serious my condition was and that I needed to make major changes. In some ways, I'd always known I was at risk -- my dad had died of a heart attack when he was 43 and I was 18. I didn't smoke, but I was 40 pounds overweight. I ate pretty much whatever I wanted, worked crazy hours, and never exercised. I thought I was immortal.

I'm an insurance broker, and thanks to my family and some very understanding clients, I've realized that I don't have to put in 60-hour weeks at the office. Instead, I coach T-ball and soccer. I've had to focus a lot on improving my diet and getting more exercise, and I talk about it with the boys all the time. I bike ride 20 to 30 miles two or three days a week, and Amy helps me incorporate more walking into my everyday life. I am serious about this: I don't need to make more money. I want my sons to have me, and I want to have time with them.

Learn more: To size up your own family's risk, take the American Heart Association's "Learn and Live Quiz" at americanheart.org.

Copyright ? 2006. Reprinted with permission from the July 2006 issue of Parents magazine.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.