Bariatric surgery becoming more accepted way of handling severe, long-term weight problems

She needed a cane to hobble 15 steps from her apartment to her car.

She used a wheelchair for anything farther than that.

At 5-foot-5, Andrea Cheeks weighed 550 pounds. The Sylacauga woman couldn’t walk, couldn’t work, couldn’t shop, couldn’t leave her home without help. Couldn’t breathe sometimes. At 43, she had high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea and an ulcer eating away at her leg as a result of problems with blood circulation.

She was suffering. She was going to die young, Cheeks learned from her doctors.

“My life consisted of staying home and paying bills,” Cheeks said in a recent phone interview, voice thick with tears. “Just knowing that I was not where God wanted me to be physically.”

But in May, things changed. Cheeks had part of her stomach removed in a gastric sleeve surgery at Stringfellow Memorial Hospital. Since then, she’s lost some 80 pounds and is out of her wheelchair for the first time in years. By this time next year, Cheeks’ doctor — Anniston surgeon Cliff Black — expects her to have lost 72 percent of her total body weight, or 400 pounds.

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