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Body Beautiful

Specialized Procedures and Sheer Determination Lead to a Whole New Self-Image

At 450 pounds, Megan Brockman decided it was time to make some significant changes. Thanks to her competitive spirit, she was driven to alter her diet and start exercising, which resulted in substantial weight loss. However, while she was able to lose the weight on her own, she knew she would still need medical assistance to get the body she truly wanted.

Brockman, 33, is currently a music teacher at Jackson-Via Elementary in Charlottesville. At her heaviest, she was teaching middle school music and could barely make it from her car to her classroom without needing a rest. Going to the movies and many other public venues wasn’t an option for her because she wasn’t able to fit into the seats. “My weight affected the way people looked at me and treated me, and also how seriously people would take me,” she remembers.

Brockman says she was always a chubby child, and many relatives on her father’s side struggled with obesity and complications from heart disease. Although she was physically active and played softball when she was young, a damaged anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and torn meniscus at age 13 required her to undergo reconstructive surgery. Then, after an 18-month recovery during which she had to learn how to walk and run all over again, she tore her other ACL. As a result, her days as an athlete were over, and she was no longer able to be physically active. Combined with her slow metabolism and big appetite, her inactivity led to steady weight gain over the following years.

Finding Her Motivation

In the summer of 2012, a close group of Brockman’s friends began planning a trip to Jamaica. Brockman knew that if she didn’t lose weight, she wouldn’t be able to fit into her plane seat or go sightseeing—and she wanted to be able to enjoy the trip with her friends.

Since the group booked the trip a year in advance, Brockman’s competitive spirit drove her to make an important resolution. “I said out loud to my friends: ‘I'm going to lose a hundred pounds before we go to Jamaica,’” she recalls. “They were all blown away, but they were very supportive. They kept me motivated to continue to push to make better choices for myself.”

Lifestyle Changes

Brockman had always enjoyed celebrating and rewarding herself with food, but she knew that couldn’t continue. She kicked her soda habit and eliminated bread, pasta and potatoes from her diet. Her new food choices included lots of salads, as well as other healthy options like eggs, avocados, Greek yogurt, fruits, vegetables and hummus.

Along with improving her eating habits, she started walking. The first few times, she could barely make it around her block. Eventually, however, she was able to walk one, two and then three miles. For her, the challenge was empowering. “Every step I took, I told myself that I was doing the very best thing I could do for myself,” she says. “I was saving my own life.”

By the time she and her friends traveled to Jamaica, Brockman had lost a remarkable 130 pounds.

A Different Body

Later, Brockman joined a gym and lost even more weight through exercise with weights, cardio activities and group classes. Once she got down to 167 pounds, though, she wasn’t feeling as confident about herself as she had hoped. She had the energy she wanted, but her weight loss had left her with large amounts of excess skin on her legs, arms, abdomen and back.

Brockman wanted to try body contouring, a type of surgery that removes excess skin and fat after significant weight loss. She looked for a doctor who treats bariatric surgery patients—who also often have excess skin—and found Victoria Vastine, MD, of The Center for Plastic Surgery at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital.

“Megan was a good candidate for body-contouring surgery because she had plateaued in her weight loss and was within 20 pounds of her desired goal,” says Dr. Vastine. “In addition, the fact that her weight loss was made through dedicated exercise and permanent changes to her eating habits demonstrated her determination to improve herself. It’s very unusual for someone to lose 150 pounds successfully—and keep that weight off—through changes in diet and exercise.”

Body-contouring patients should talk with their surgeon about any concerns and priorities, says Dr. Vastine. “Together, you can map out a plan that is tailored to your needs and provides the best outcome with the fewest risks,” she adds. “Body contouring is a thoughtful process and should not be rushed.”

Successful Surgery

Although Brockman knew her health insurance wouldn’t cover most of her surgeries, that wasn’t going to stop her. “I decided that having that debt was worth achieving peace of mind and having the life I wanted,” she explains.

In October 2018, Brockman had two surgeries—a brachioplasty, also known as an arm lift, and a panniculectomy to remove excess skin from her abdomen (insurance did cover her panniculectomy). Brockman took a month off from work to recover.

While most body-contouring patients require more than one procedure, the surgeries are split into multiple sessions to lower the risk of complications—primarily those related to being under prolonged general anesthesia. Depending on the procedures to be performed, Dr. Vastine recommends a minimum of three to six months between each major operation, to allow patients to recover fully.

In July 2019, Brockman also had a bilateral thigh lift, or thighplasty, to tighten the skin on the front and outside of her legs. Her mom and sister stayed with her for a while, and friends pitched in to provide her with meals, but she did most of her recovery on her own.

Next Steps

For patients considering body contouring, it’s important to seek out a surgeon who is experienced with this specific process and is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery—which requires surgeons to pass multiple certifying exams and complete five to eight years of specialized training, in addition to medical school. “This operation is quite different from a less complicated procedure, such as a tummy tuck,” notes Dr. Vastine.

Brockman was feeling good when she returned to her teaching job in August. Her new look continues to motivate her to stay on the right track with diet and exercise. “I can’t take this gift I've been given and throw that away,” she says. “Dr. Vastine changed my life.”

There is one last procedure Brockman hopes to have soon—a bra-line panniculectomy to remove excess skin from her back. She doesn’t mind returning for more surgery, though, knowing the kind of compassionate care she’ll receive.

“Everyone on the team knows me when I walk in, and I never sit in the waiting room longer than 30 seconds,” she says. “The nurses are always excited to see me. I feel like I have a team of cheerleaders there. They tell me I’ve inspired them, and that feels really good.”

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