Health crisis motivates McLaren Flint bariatric patient to win her weight loss battle

Author: Leslie Toldo

For 10 years Felicia McGee battled with her weight, and, for a while, her efforts paid off big.

“It started in 2011, when I started having some health issues,” Felicia said, “And I lost nearly 100 pounds by 2013.”

Then, the pounds slowly started creeping back on.

“By 2020, when the pandemic hit, I was up to 341 pounds,” Felicia said. “I had gained back the weight I lost and then some.”

A family crisis in April 2020, just one month after the pandemic began, shifted Felicia’s focus from the weight gain.  Her husband landed in the hospital, infected with COVID-19.  Not long after, it happened to Felicia.

“He came out of the hospital on dialysis,” Felicia said.  “I was taking care of him. I stopped working so I could be his caregiver. But I was also dealing with my own COVID aftereffects.”

Not only was she put on depression and anxiety drugs when she left the hospital, Felicia developed blood clots that took an incredible toll in her everyday life.

“It changed my mobility,” Felicia said. “I was struggling to breathe. I was not able to function the same way anymore.”

Suddenly, it struck Felicia that she might not be suffering so severely in the wake of her COVID infection had she been at a healthy weight.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity is among the risk factors that contribute to severe COVID-19 illness.

“I gained the weight back before COVID, but COVID brought it all to the surface,” Felicia said. “I was not enjoying life. I was walking around, and the thought occurred to me, ‘Is this the best life that you can live?’ People must reach that moment of clarity.  Ask yourself what you deserve.”

Felicia, a stress recovery educator, mental wellness advocate, and motivational speaker, said she knew she had to make a change.

“I can’t support other people to be well if I am not well,” Felicia said. “A moment of clarity awakens power. Clarity comes from awareness and awareness is an internal force where there is a light switch that gets turned on. What can no longer be unknown can no longer be ignored.”

At the end of 2020,  Felicia’s doctor finally referred her to the McLaren Bariatric and Metabolic Institute.

“He told me weight loss was critical to me getting better,” Felicia said.

The McLaren Bariatrics program required Felicia to lose some weight before she could have surgery.  She had to see a nutritionist. 

Felicia also had to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.  Meeting regularly with board-certified health psychologist, Nicole Franklin, PsyD, LP, ABPP was what Felicia calls a real game-changer.

“I was able to get clearer about my emotional connection to eating. It was the way that I soothed myself,” Felicia said. “I got clarity about my battle with anxiety, and depression, but mostly anxiety. I became aware that some of the relationships in my life contributed to me not caring for myself well, and food was my way of dealing with it. “

Franklin is the assistant medical director at the McLaren Bariatric and Metabolic Institute, and academic director of behavioral health at McLaren Flint.  She says counseling can play a crucial role in the weight loss journey.

“Counseling gives you the opportunity to explore barriers to long-lasting behavior change,” Franklin said. “The techniques learned in these counseling sessions can make the difference between success and failure. One of the most important weapons in your arsenal for weight loss success is your mind. With practice, you can learn to change the thoughts that impede your success and work to establish new behavioral patterns.”

Armed with a new understanding of herself, Felicia had gastric bypass in June of 2021.  It was a life changing event she says she felt comfortable entrusting to the McLaren Bariatric and Metabolic Institute staff.

“The level of care, education, and support offered by everyone on staff is unmatched,” Felicia said. “They are always attentive and ready to offer what's needed to help me achieve my goals. The care is top-notch, and Dr Kia is the best around!”

While her weight dropped to 181 pounds, Felicia said the number on the scale is not what matters to her today.  Her desire to be healthy and enjoy life is what motivates and inspires her.

“I want to live harmoniously, where I love myself, I am happy with who I am, and practice being well,” Felicia said. “So, I keep working on being clear about what my goal is.  Wellness.”

To learn more about the McLaren Bariatric and Metabolic Institute, and whether you might be a candidate for a bariatric procedure, click here.