Two days after Christmas last year, Ann LePage followed through on “the single best decision that I have made in my life” — undergoing a weight-loss operation at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.
“This surgery has literally given me my life back,” Maine’s first lady told a medical conference last month.
Gov. Paul LePage and his wife addressed a session of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery in Washington, D.C., to tout the success of the sleeve gastrectomies each underwent in late 2016 to pare away excess pounds.
In a recording of their talk, the governor said the pair turned to Dr. Jamie Loggins, medical director of bariatric surgery at CMMC, after seeing the success of the operation on four people in his office.
“We decided together to take the jump,” Gov. LePage said.
The governor said he went first after choosing Loggins — “one of the best in the country” — to perform the procedure “in my hometown of Lewiston. In fact, for security reasons and for privacy reasons, my alias when I went in for surgery was Lewis Town. It was really cool.”
A year later, the 69-year-old LePage was down 60 pounds to his former college weight while the first lady shed 70 pounds.
“We are now so comfortable in our skin because we got it done,” LePage said. “My energy level is way up. We are healthier now than we have been in a very, very long time. And I’ll tell you, look at my wife, isn’t she hot?”
The trimmed-down governor said that when he heads to the White House now, “the president calls me his ‘little skinny guy from Maine.’”
“I’m healthy and I’m around for the long haul,” LePage said.
He said that before the surgery, he was heading for a health crisis, struggling to stave off diabetes.
A former smoker with high blood pressure and sleep apnea, LePage said his back ached and his knees hurt.
“For years, I worked out, worked out, worked out, but I was putting too many calories in,” LePage said.
“Had to stop playing racquetball because I gained all kinds of weight,” he said. “My back would give out. Had to give up hockey. Had to give up skiing.”
He said he realized something had to change.
Because five of his 17 siblings came down with diabetes, he said he knew he had many risk factors for following suit. He recalled, with a catch in his throat, that his mother “lost her eyes, lost her legs” because of the disease.
Ann LePage’s family also had a history that gave him pause. Her father died at 69, the governor said, his own age.
LePage said some of his political foes wouldn’t mind seeing him gone “but I wasn’t ready to give up yet.”
“I want to be around for my children and my grandchildren — and who knows — there might be another election in my future,” LePage said.
So Maine’s first couple went under the scalpel last year.
LePage said he was “surprised and elated how quick we recovered” afterward.
Told to take it easy for a couple of weeks, he instead “cheated a little bit and went back to work” almost right away. Ann LePage also started “running around” cleaning and moving boxes during her recuperation period, the governor said.
When LePage trimmed down so suddenly, he said, “most of my political opponents thought I was sick and I was at the end of my rope.”
“Little did they know — and sorry to disappoint them,” the governor said.
LePage ultimately disclosed that he and his wife had undergone weight-loss surgery. He declared it’s important to talk openly about obesity.
“We shouldn’t be afraid to speak about what will kill us and we shouldn’t be afraid to treat it because my feeling is this: You’re dead for a long time,” he said.
LePage said he’s wearing clothing that hasn’t fit in decades and feeling as good as he did back in his student days at Husson College.
He said his wife told him that it’s OK to feel like he’s in college, “but I can’t act like it anymore.”
LePage said that when he and Ann went to their Florida home, they used to ride bicycles for 25 miles daily. Now, he said, they log 40 miles.
“It takes us about the same time that it did. It’s incredible. It’s just incredible,” LePage said.
“We’re very, very proud that our health is so much better.”
Ann LePage said she tried everything she could for decades to lose weight, from exercise to the latest fad diets. The extra pounds she carried were, she said, “the first and last thing that I thought about every day.”
Nothing worked, she said.
The first lady said she once considered weight-loss surgery “an easy way out,” an option that avoided the need to eat less and work out more. She changed her mind because she wanted “a longer life and a healthy lifestyle” that the operation could deliver.
She said the couple’s choice to have the surgery was “the best thing we’ve ever done.”
“I hope people find inspiration from our story,” she said, recognizing there is “nothing easy” about losing weight but pulling it off is “an affirmative step toward a healthier you.”
The governor said that dealing with obesity ought to be a key national policy.
“America needs to get fit because without being fit, we can’t be great,” LePage said.
Pleading for more attention to the issue, he said, “I am absolutely convinced, without a shadow of a doubt, that obesity is the No. 1 killer in America.”
It’s also a serious problem in Maine, LePage said, where the obesity rate has nearly tripled since 1990. “Maine is the biggest and most obese state in New England,” the governor said.
LePage said he’s pleased that most private insurers in Maine consider bariatric surgery “safe and effective” and cover the tab for it. He said Medicaid and Medicare are “moving in that direction” as well.
“Every time I meet with the president and the vice president, we talk about how we need to reform America,” he said.
“And I’m considered one of the experts in the whole area of Medicaid, Medicare and health care, as well as reforming welfare. It’s a lifesaving program.
“I’m very, very proud that I can say that in Maine if you’re able to work, we are working with you and getting you back to work and we’re making you exercise. We’re making you work those pounds off.
“And whether or not you go through surgery or not, because there are many different ways, we as Americans have to go back and get America working again.”
LePage said that dealing with obesity is critical for everyone.
“Whether you do it through surgery, hard work and dieting, I don’t care how you do it. Just do it,” he said.
Dr. Jamie Loggins, left, medical director of bariatric surgery at Central Maine Medical Center, is on stage at a conference last month with two of his former patients: first lady Ann LePage and Gov. Paul LePage. Each underwent weight-loss surgery by Loggins at the Lewiston hospital last year. (Photo: American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery)