A new life after 60
A new life after 60
WOONSOCKET - Evelyn St. George had become desperate.
In 2013, St. George was approaching her 62nd birthday, and had tried nearly every diet and weight loss system she could find.
Weighing 272 pounds and badly in need of knee replacement surgery, St. George was on three blood pressure medications, daily medication for reflux disease, and was taking 650 milligrams of extra strength arthritis acetaminophen three times a day for osteoarthritis in both knees, and Fosomax for bone thinning.
Her weight had caused her to move her sleeping quarters out of the second-story bedroom she shared with her husband and into her house's first-floor dining room. The health problems had made her leave her job as the director and coordinator of education at a large childcare center.
Doctors told St. George that if she had knee surgery, it would leave her with complications and infections for around two years if she didn't drop some of the extra pounds in advance.
"I was exhausted mentally and physically," she said. "I was walking with a cane. Both knees were bone on bone, so I couldn't bend them to walk. I missed a lot of activities and I did a lot of crying."
"My primary care physician challenged me to lose weight, but told me 'Don't try to do this on your own without monitoring and exercise. You will fail.'"
That's when St. George discovered the Wellness Through Weight Loss program at Senior Services Inc.
The program, operated by registered orthopedic nurse Linda Thibault, includes weight loss counseling and exercise classes, weigh-ins and blood pressure screening, group therapy, along with one-on-one sessions and diet plans.
St. George began her journey on Jan. 14, 2013.
"The class was small and we really learned the nuts and bolts of nutrition," St. George said. "There was a food plan to follow, written information on certain food groups that helped osteoarthritis, what types of fruit helped to keep blood sugar levels stable, which complex carbs and proteins help in weight loss and maintaining healthy weight..."
And unlike the diet plans she'd tried in the past, it worked.
"I weigh now what I did in high school," St. George, now 63, said with a grin.
St. George says her struggles with weight loss began at a young age.
"I was always heavy," she said. "At 5, I weighed over 100 pounds."
Doctors told her parents an inoperable problem with her hypothalamus was to blame. Still, St. George admits her lifestyle choices over the years didn't help.
"It's an addiction: just like alcohol, just like drugs, just like gambling," she said.
The lifetime city resident had a demanding career in education, working between 45 and 60 hours every week, and said she had little time for nutrition and exercise.
"I didn't have time for me," St. George said. "Most of us don't put ourselves first. We put ourselves last."
The Senior Services program was different, she said, because it's holistic.
There are many programs that help with weight loss, "but they don't deal with the spiritual side," St. George said.
"We are all emotion-driven."
With Thibault, St. George took part in individual weigh-ins and one-on-one reviews of her food log. Three days a week she took part in hour-long group exercise classes.
"Linda told me to do what I can, even if I had to sit to do it," she said. "Everyone in the class cheered me on."
That camaraderie, which she says is present in all of the center's programs, was key to St. George's success.
"At Senior Services, it is like an extended family, we cheer each other on and celebrate every step of our journey to maintain quality of life," St. George said.
Thibault would follow up on group sessions with literature addressing the specific issues holding the participants back.
By October, St. George weighed just 183 pounds. She had her first knee replacement surgery in November of last year, and by the time she went back for her follow-up, she'd dropped another 13 pounds.
"I was going for broke. I wanted it all," she said. "I was starting my retirement in a wheelchair? No!"
In February, she had her second knee surgery. And by her yearly physical in July, she'd lost a total of 112 pounds.
Now, the spunky 63-year-old attends Senior Services exercising programs on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and walks two miles a day with her dog, Daisy, when she's not there. Her blouse size has gone from a size 20 to a size 12, and her slacks have shrunk from a size 24 to a 14.
For the first time in years, she was able to go on rides at this year's Our Lady Queen of Martyrs festival, and last weekend, she moved her bed back upstairs.
"I can go places now where I couldn't go before," St. George said. "I am so grateful every day and I don't take it for granted at all."
Woonsocket Senior Services is the only senior center in the state that's also a wellness center. The organization is grant funded, and in addition to the Wellness program, it offers nutritional low-cost lunches, entertainment, special events and workshops.
And for participants like St. George, it's totally free
"The amount of programing they have is unbelievable for a place that just does it by grant funding," St. George said.
For the past three years, Senior Services has paid just $1 a year for the use of the facility at 84 Social St., and the city has picked up the cost for all maintenance and utilities. But as part of recent austerity measures, city officials say the center will need to work out new deal.
As those negotiations continue, St. George is hopeful more seniors will learn about all of the services the center offers.
"Senior Services should not be the city's best kept secret," she said. "They gave me my life back."