Weight loss saves Trotwood woman’s life

Woman reverses decline in her health.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity affects more than 40% of Americans. But African Americans have the highest prevalence of obesity, with nearly 50% struggling with extra weight. Obesity can not only cause mobility issues, but in some people, it can also cause severe health issues.

Sharon Starks of Trotwood was pregnant with her son, Jeremiah Lamont, who was born prematurely in May of 2013. Besides the weight she gained during pregnancy, Starks was carrying more than 100 pounds of excess weight.

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“Shortly after my son was born, I developed a cough,” Starks said. “I went to the doctor because it didn’t get better.”

Starks was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection and her doctor prescribed breathing treatments and antibiotics. But she continued to get worse.

“I couldn’t sleep,” Starks said. “I was sitting up on the couch and couldn’t breathe.”

Her in-laws came to care for her son so Starks could rest, but after struggling to breathe, she called 911 and was taken to the hospital. Her doctor decided to run tests and keep her overnight.

“I was diagnosed with asthma when I was 16,” Starks said. “But this was worse. My doctor told me the next morning that it could be my heart.”

At just 26 years old, Starks was in heart failure. At the time, her cardiologist said the cause was dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition that weakens the heart muscle and causes the left ventricle to enlarge. And it turns out that African Americans have a higher prevalence of this condition due to family history. She was fitted with a defibrillator and pacemaker and told she would eventually need a heart transplant.

Sent home with multiple medications, Starks did not improve and four months later developed pneumonia. She couldn’t go up or down steps and she continued labored breathing.

“I thought that was going to be my life,” Starks said. “I couldn’t play with my son or walk around the grocery store.”

In 2016, Starks was back in the hospital after she passed out on the bathroom floor. Her husband, Jeremiah, arrived, she grabbed his hand and went into cardiac arrest. Her heart stopped 13 times and she was shocked back to life seven times before she was stabilized.

“They wanted to transfer me to Cleveland Clinic for the transplant, but they wouldn’t accept me because of my weight,” Starks said.

Weary of hearing the same news and unable to lose much weight due her medications and sedentary lifestyle, Starks felt as if she was fighting an uphill battle.

Then something happened that would change her life forever. She was referred to The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center for bariatric – or weight loss – surgery. Her doctor there recognized immediately that she had no quality of life as it was and desperately needed help.

“I had my gastric sleeve surgery in January of 2019,” Starks said. “They worked closely with cardiologists since I was still in heart failure.”

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With no post-surgical complications, Starks went home and began her weight loss journey. She had one hiccup when she developed severe acid reflux and began losing weight too quickly. A second surgery was performed called the Roux-en-Y, which is the more traditional gastric bypass that involves creating a small pouch form the stomach and connecting it to the small intestine.

That procedure made all the difference. Starks lost 120 pounds and reached her goal weight of 145. But as she prepared herself for a heart transplant, her doctors were surprised that her heart was functioning normally. She no longer needed a new heart.

Today she has returned to work after 10 years. She still has a pacemaker but is stable and knows she will always need to be on guard. Both her mother and grandmother had heart disease and her mother had a massive heart attack that took her life at the age of 29. She is an advocate of normalizing family health discussions, especially among the African American community.

“The weight loss was the miracle that made my heart better,” Starks said. “But knowing your family history could be a lifesaver for everyone.”

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