Leo and Jessica Loos have experienced stunning success after undergoing gastric-bypass surgery in January. Yet there has also been severe complications.

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‘I wake up every morning in tears. … I can’t stand it. I wish I could go back in a time travel machine to three months ago and not have the surgery.’

— Jessica Loos in an April Web journal entry

In many ways, Leo and Jessica Loos have experienced stunning success after undergoing gastric-bypass surgery Jan. 23. The Eastside couple each lost about a pound every day for the first four months, an ounce of fat melting away every 90 minutes.

Leo can feel sensation in his thighs for the first time in years because a nerve near his hip is no longer compressed by his excess weight. He has dropped from 387 pounds before surgery to 235 pounds now. Jessica has gone from 323 pounds to 202. The contours of their faces have emerged from a padding of fat.

They continue losing weight at a steady rate. The doctors who stapled and sliced each of their stomachs into a pouch the size of a golf ball expect the couple’s weight will stabilize by next January. Already Jessica has been officially upgraded from “morbidly obese” to simply “overweight,” and Leo is not far behind.

Leo and Jessica: Through fatter and thinner

In March, The Times told the story of Leo and Jessica Loos, who underwent stomach-reduction surgery on the same day in January, carrying out a promise they’d made to each other. Today, we look at the highs and lows the couple have faced in heir recovery. Earlier stories are at www.seattletimes.com/obesity

• View an audio slide show presentation about Leo and Jessica.

Yet neither patient had expected the severe complications that Jessica, in particular, would endure. In late March she began dry-heaving and lost her appetite. She was hospitalized three times, the third time for 10 days. On her final visit, doctors discovered she was vitamin deficient, her heart was racing at 153 beats per minute and she was so dehydrated her brain had begun shrinking.

During those dark hours, Jessica faced the prospect of undergoing delicate surgery to remove her staples and reattach the tiny new pouch to the rest of her stomach. To undo the bypass.

‘I was afraid of that option because that would mean that Leo would get thin and I would go back to being large. I wondered what that would mean for us as a couple.’

— Jessica in a May Web update

It didn’t come to that because doctors caught her complications in time. If anything, the close call has tightened Leo and Jessica’s bond. They began their relationship casually when they met at Microsoft five years ago; they soon fell in love and married. Last December they made a pact to undergo bypass surgery together and help each other through every step of their recovery.

Leo tenderly stroked his wife’s hair and rubbed her back during her most recent stay at Overlake Hospital Medical Center in Bellevue. He slept in the hospital lobby, leaving only to feed their two dogs and run quick errands. While Jessica recovered, he switched to graveyard shifts at Microsoft so he could spend more time with her.

Leo enjoys new flexibility with his weight loss, bending easily to tend to plants at the couple’s Issaquah townhouse. He has regained sensation in his thighs, and once-snug clothes now are loose.

Leo also suffered repeat bouts of vomiting. Doctors treated him once at the hospital for dehydration, then discovered in late May that the passage leading from his new pouch to his intestine was the width of a straw rather than a dime. They expanded it using an inflatable medical balloon.

Leo shrugs off his complications, but Jessica is left wondering how close she came to suffering permanent brain damage or even dying.

The couple knew before surgery that the procedure could kill them. About 7 percent of patients reportedly suffer complications, and an average of one or two of every 200 die. The Looses believed, though, that the risks were worth taking — that the surgery would improve their health, extend their lives and make them happier.

They are among 95,000 Americans expected to undergo stomach-reduction surgery this year, a more than fourfold increase from 1995. Experts attribute that to an epidemic of obesity and increased awareness of its health risks.

The health issues for Leo and Jessica were clear: At 41, Leo suffered sleep apnea, gallstones and high blood pressure. Both experienced back pain, skin infections and bad circulation. Jessica, 26, was borderline diabetic. They had tried diets, drugs and exercise routines for years without success.

There were other, more personal motivations: Jessica wanted to wear cute clothes, lose a fold of fat she describes as her “butt shelf” and walk taller with more confidence. She linked her weight to the depression she suffers. Leo wanted to be able to take his nephew to an amusement park and go on the rides with him.

Leo and Jessica in January, the day before the surgery.

Jessica was housebound for several weeks after her last stay in the hospital but is regaining her strength and has been walking a mile most evenings. She has also gone eight weeks without a cigarette, after worrying her habit was aggravating her nausea. Leo seems healthier and more talkative since the bypass.

“It’s definitely changed my life,” Leo said. “Already I have so much more energy. I sleep better and I can walk up and down the stairs without getting winded.”

Daily challenges remain. Jessica has bipolar disorder, or manic-depressive illness, and could not keep down her pills for months after the bypass. She finally restarted them in late May, but not before her depression had taken hold.

‘Right now I cannot tell you how I feel about the surgery.
I have definitely been through more than the average patient. … I have been through too much to gain the weight back, so there is no way I would go back now.’

— Jessica in a May Web update

The couple were on a high for the first few weeks as the pounds dropped away. They began walking a mile or two in the evenings. They watched the movie “Chicago” at Redmond Town Center and managed to squeeze into their seats.

More than 200 messages were posted on their Web site, most of them written by people who had read about the couple in The Seattle Times. Many who wrote had undergone stomach-reduction surgery themselves or were considering the option.

Gastric-bypass-surgery patients Leo and Jessica Loos and their two newly neutered dogs, Sausha and Maggie. The dogs wear plastic hoods to keep them from nibbling at their stitches.

“I have a recipe for your blender,” wrote one person. “We believe that couples who lose together — stay together,” wrote another. “Just checked the latest stats. WOW! Just look at that page any time you get discouraged and it’s gotta make you smile,” said another. Two people wrote disparaging comments — and were slammed by others before the Looses had a chance to reply.

“Good Morning America” asked Leo and Jessica to come to New York for interviews, although plans were shelved for war coverage. Other national television shows also contacted them.

One evening the couple returned to Claim Jumpers restaurant in Redmond, where they had feasted the night before the bypass. This time, restricted to eating puréed food for the first three months following surgery, they ordered soup broth.

As the weeks went by, Leo and Jessica ate mostly puréed food, though they bent the rules a few times with bites of scrambled eggs, cottage cheese, hamburger and burrito. Sometimes they would chew food for the flavor and spit it out.

Jessica began carrying mouthwash, deodorants, dental kits, hand sanitizers and body wipes to battle the smells that leak from people’s bodies during rapid weight loss, a process called ketosis.

On the Web

• Jessica and Leo Loos are chronicling their experience: www.jeleo.com

To mark their solidarity, they got matching ankle tattoos at the Lucky Devil tattoo parlor on Capitol Hill. Written in Japanese Kanji characters, the tattoos translate to: “Together through thick and thin.”

‘I have numbness from my neck down and I have to push really hard to feel it. It feels like the world is spinning and I have to hold on.’

— Jessica, speaking weakly from her hospital bed, May 9

Doctors had put a tube down her nose, through her stomach pouch and into her intestine to try to feed her, but after a few hours she started gagging. Her head rolled from side to side as she spoke, and she had fallen on a trip to the bathroom.

Jessica’s first sign of illness had come six weeks earlier. She woke up with severe stomach cramps and went to Overlake, where a scan showed she had kidney stones. She went home but soon returned with more pain. Dr. David Simonowitz, the couple’s bypass surgeon, found her gallbladder was enlarged and removed it in a one-hour laparoscopic surgery. He told her the insides of the organ had turned the consistency of motor oil.

Weeks went by and Jessica remained sick. She was hospitalized again May 8, and doctors revealed the harsh possibility that they would need to reverse the bypass unless she improved soon.

“She had lost the ability to move her eyes from left to right. They had become paralyzed in her sockets,” said Dr. Daniel Fosmire, Jessica’s neurologist.

The discovery turned out to be Jessica’s turning point. Fosmire treated Jessica with a simple intravenous thiamin drip and fluids that eased her symptoms within hours. “It was a wonderful outcome,” Fosmire said. Jessica, in her next journal entry, credited Fosmire and Simonowitz under the title: “How do you thank someone for saving your life?”

All bypass patients must take vitamin, calcium and iron supplements for life, because the surgery reduces their body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Jessica was taking flavored vitamin pills before she began getting sick, but then could no longer hold them down. Now she takes prenatal pills to get a complete range of nutrients.

‘We are looking forward to doing more walking, outdoor hikes and rock-climbing. Things we haven’t been able to do because we are so overweight.’

— Leo

The Looses hope the worst is over.

Jessica’s fingers are curled into Leo’s familiar and comforting grasp in the hospital May 9 as she faces complications from the January gastric-bypass surgery. Doctors feared they would have to reverse the bypass unless her condition improved.

Leo no longer works nights. He has started using the weight room at the couple’s apartment complex in Issaquah, and he’s been able to eat Oscar Mayer Lunchables, ravioli, egg salad and other food regularly.

Jessica went to a friend’s going-away party recently, a situation she likely would have avoided before her bypass. When people told her how great she looked, she accepted the compliment instead of questioning it.

Next month the couple plan to attend Microsoft’s company picnic for the first time in three years.

“We can tolerate the heat much better than before,” Jessica said.

The two sometimes miss pizza, hamburgers, soda and candy. But not to the point they feel compelled to eat those things.

The Looses document their weight loss in a photo taken for their Web site, which also includes measurements and journal entries. They say sharing their experience is important to them.

“I have not been hungry a single day since surgery,” Leo said.

Once their weight stabilizes, Leo and Jessica might have plastic surgery to remove extra folds of skin left hanging from their bodies.

Until then, there are the dogs to take care of, summer projects to consider and the re-emerging possibility that the networks will whisk them away to New York for a few days. They’ve started packing for a move to a new apartment next month.

“Sorry to hear about your pain,” wrote one correspondent in a recent e-mail. “Don’t lose heart now, you are doing great. You’ll have the last laugh.”

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or nperry@seattletimes.com