Firefighter’s Weight Loss Fight – A Severe Approach

By Assistant Chief Robert A. Mitchell, BPM, ICT 2, PM


What’s 40 years old, 350 lbs, 5 feet 9 inches tall and completes a Firefighter rookie / recruit challenge in less than 8 minutes? Well sorry, there’s no punch line, truth is it was me three years ago before I made some radical changes in my life. Let me give you a little more background. At the time I was an Assistant Chief of Operations in charge of a shift of firefighters and paramedics. Besides the administrative responsibilities I needed to maintain the same physical capability standards as a rookie firefighter that has just completed minimum standards. No easy task for a 40 year old anyway. Health wise obviously I was overweight, my cholesterol was in the 190’s, my triglycerides were off the scale somewhere above 600, I was type two diabetic, controlled with oral medications, my blood pressure was high around 190/90 most of the time and my resting pulse was 100. Additionally I had sleep apnea and could snore any and everyone out of the bunkroom.

During my annual physical that year my family doctor finally got real honest with me and told me that if I didn’t get the weight off I would not see my daughters (then 6 & 7) graduate high school, I’d be dead. Needless to say that shook me up a bit so we started looking for alternatives. Up to that point I had been half heartedly trying to diet and exercise which for me didn’t work. I looked in to more significant ways to loose weight and keep it off; stomach stapling, liposuction, lap banding, and gastric bypass, all surgical options. Most of these options had significant side effects and limited long tern success rates, with the exception of one.


Gastric bypass looked like it might be the best option for me. Simply explained, GB is where your stomach is bypassed and your body is forced into something of a lifelong malnutrition (forgive the layman’s explanation). Now the trick was finding a doctor that did the surgery and finding out how much it would cost and finally would insurance cover it or not. I managed to find a doctor in my area who did the surgery, it would cost in the neighborhood of $20,000.00 and of course my insurance turned it down. Apparently this was not a new experience for my doctor who worked with me and my insurance jumping through hoops to prove that this would, without any doubt, be life saving medically necessary surgery. I went through, classes about what the surgery entailed, what life after the surgery would be like, unending blood work, nutritional and dietary coaching and counseling as well as cardiac, respiratory and endocrinology tests and believe it or not physiological testing. With all of that completed and my insurance reluctantly on board I had the surgery. For the first week I was miserable, not eating at all (I was aware of this beforehand but never really prepared).

During this time and for the next year my body underwent incredible changes and my mind underwent even more changes. I learned very quickly that getting my daily minimum required nutritional values of 98 grams of protein and 100 ounces of fluids every day way not that easy with a stomach / pouch approximately the size of my thumb. Keep in mind if I overate, my body got rid of the excess and then some in very colorful ways. Out of my diet completely were rice, potatoes, pasta and bread, as well as sugar. While all these things sound like a lot to give up the results have been well worth it. During that first year I lost 100 lbs, I am no longer diabetic, my B/P is routinely 100/70, resting pulse is 70, no more sleep apnea, for which my wife and daughters are very grateful, my cholesterol is 90 and my triglycerides are 120. O and in the last two years I have lost another 50 lbs and am maintaining fairly well.


I’ve shared this with you not to say how great I am but to let you know there are alternatives to losing weight and getting healthy. I am also not a “health nut” although I enjoy being healthy. Currently I serve with the Reedy Creek Fire Department in Lake Buena Vista, Florida as and Asst Chief / Watch Commander and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office as a Dive Medical Technician – Paramedic with the Underwater Search and Recovery Team. Additionally, I enjoy time with my family outside hiking and biking. It’s great to feel like doing something beyond just spending my off duty time in a recliner talking about how hot it is. Gastric Bypass was certainly a severe approach to weight loss but if your mind is right about doing something about your obesity it is an option worth looking into.