Thursday, January 1, 2009
Today is the first day of a year that Ernesto Suncar and his doctors feared he might never see.
Weighing 640 pounds, wearing 10X shirts and with a 70-inch waist, the 33-year-old New Yorker was told by doctors he would likely be dead within 12 months.
Realizing it was a choice between losing weight and dying, the proud father of three, who had tried every diet imaginable, underwent gastric bypass surgery - and has shed more than two-thirds of his former self.
"I want people to feel inspired when they look at me," says the Hell's Kitchen resident, who's down to 210 pounds. "Hopefully, if they have a weight issue, they will finally do something about it, starting right now.
"Losing this weight saved my life. Without the operation, I doubt I would be here to celebrate New Year's.
"It's scary to think what might have happened."
The business management student says his body ballooned after he came to the U.S. from his native Dominican Republic at the age 7.
"I was a normal, active kid who used to run and play outdoors in the tropical climate," he recalls. "When we moved into a small apartment where it was cold, I stayed inside and didn't get any exercise.
"The only games I played were video games."
His love of chow didn't help. He would gorge himself on Spanish-style fried pork chops, rice and plantains, McDonald's, pizza and pasta.
"My mom would tell the guys at the corner deli not to serve me, so I'd just walk to another block," Suncar admits.
He once lost 64 pounds on a 1,800-calorie-a-day diet, but then gained 120 pounds. At his heaviest, the 6-foot-2 food junkie tipped the scales at 640 pounds.
"My little son had to tie my shoelaces," he says. "I poked fun at myself, but inside I was hurting."
The turning point came when chronic breathing difficulties and the immense strain on his heart threatened to kill him.
"The doctor said, if I carried on as I was, I would be dead in a year," Suncar says.
Dr. Elliot Goodman, chief of bariatric surgery at Beth Israel Medical Center, performed the gastric bypass.
There were minor complications, but this winter, after following a nutritious eating plan and increasing his fitness at the gym, Suncar has reached - and maintained - a healthy weight.
His waistline has shrunk to 34 inches and, instead of having to buy expensive outsize clothes on the Internet, he shops for stylish gear at The Gap.
"I feel reborn," he says. "These days I can cycle along the Hudson River, play with my kids and this summer, I'm planning on taking a flight. Before, I couldn't have fit in an airline seat.
"I keep some of my old things in my closet to remind me of how I used to look. But there's no going back."