Shirley Bearden, a Mercy nurse, once had trouble walking even short distances because of her weight. After losing 160 pounds, now she runs marathons.
“To go from being short of breath after walking to my mailbox to running 26.2 miles in a marathon is amazing,” said Bearden, 62, who lives in Fort Smith, Arkansas – the state with the third-highest adult obesity rate in the nation. “I cried so hard after I finished my first half marathon and first marathon because they are accomplishments I never saw in my future before bariatric surgery.”
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In 2010, Bearden had a body mass index (BMI) of 48. A BMI of 19-24 is considered healthy, while anything from 40-54 is deemed extremely obese.
If being labeled “morbidly obese” wasn’t enough of a red flag, other medical conditions were.
“I ended up in the hospital,” said Bearden, a former insulin-dependent diabetic with high blood pressure and sleep apnea. “I didn’t know the asthma was weight-related.”
Up to that point, Bearden declined her doctor’s recommendation to have bariatric surgery. “I’d think, ‘It’s just weight. I can lose it,'” she said.
Bearden’s health continued to deteriorate. One day she was so short of breath walking from the parking lot into work as a Mercy nurse that she was sent to the emergency department and admitted to the intensive care unit.
“I didn’t think I was going to live to see 60,” recalled the 30-year health care veteran. “My doctor said, ‘Shirley, I don’t know whether we can keep you alive another year.'”
Bearden finally decided to have gastric-bypass surgery at the age of 54. In the process of losing 160 pounds, she wanted to get in better physical shape.
She started walking from her front door to the mailbox. “That was far as I could go,” she said. Eventually, she worked her way up to walking 5 miles.
By 2012, two years after surgery, she was running in races. To date, she has run in almost 30 half marathons, as well as eight marathons.
“I talk about myself like I’m two different people,” Bearden said. “I am no longer asthmatic and take no medication at all. I went from not having a future to living a phenomenal life.”