Two years ago, I woke up knowing it was the day of my dreaded annual health checkup. I got my son Corey up for school.
The first thing he wanted to know was who won the basketball game that ended after his 9 p.m. bedtime the previous evening.
I was able to report that his beloved Miami Heat won, because, unlike Corey, I never put any restrictions on myself about staying up late, even though I was often tired and not eager to get up in the morning.
Corey sat down to eat breakfast and talk to his mother as I went to take my pre-doctor’s visit shower. I began to do what most men do — hold in my gut, look in the mirror and convince myself I looked pretty good for 42. After my extra-long shower, I put on the best suit in my arsenal. If I was going to the doctor to be informed that I was unhealthy, at least I’d look good doing it.
I took Corey to school and made my way to the doctor’s office for my annual fight with reality. I knew I weighed an aggressive 412 pounds and had elevated blood pressure.
When the doctor came into the exam room, the conversation started differently than I expected. He asked to see a picture of my son. Being the proud father that I am, I quickly showed him several photos on my phone. He complimented me on having such a handsome young man, and then he said something that hit me harder than I’d ever been hit. He said, “Looking at your blood work and your vitals, it’s too bad you are not going to be around to see him grow up.”
At first, I was shocked. Then the humility of my reality began to set in. The doctor explained how my blood pressure was still out of control, my unstable glucose level was suggesting a pre-diabetic condition and my excessive weight was putting undue stress on my heart. He explained that carrying that much weight over long periods of time would increase the development of arthritis and other bone-degenerating disorders.
The doctor said that I might be able to carry 400+ pounds today, but 10 years from now, the weight would increase, and my ability to function would decrease.
Simply put, I was “pre-everything” and I needed to start medication to control my ever-rising blood pressure.
The doctor went over with me, line by line, my blood-work results and told me about the dangers of high blood pressure. We scheduled a six-month follow-up visit, and he wrote me a prescription that, truthfully, I never intended to get filled.
After leaving the doctor’s office, I sat in my car and prayed for the strength to make the necessary changes so that I could break the cycle that plagues so many men of color. I realized that, at 42, I was the oldest male in my immediate family.
More importantly, my prayer was that God would enable me to make changes so that I’d be around long enough to teach my son to live a healthy, happy and fulfilling life and watch him grow. I knew that diets did not work for me. I already had a gym membership that I never used. I knew I didn’t know what I needed to know, so I went to the library and began to research how to put together a plan of action.
Using what I learned, I developed a one-day-at-a-time plan. I gave up eating meat for my Lent sacrifice. That was easy enough. The challenge was finding replacement foods that were not higher in fat, calories and cholesterol.
I also learned that I had to end my addiction to soda and somehow come up with an exercise program that was effective and enjoyable.
Day one was very hard, but day two was a little easier. By the end of Lent, not only did I begin to see small changes in my appearance, but more importantly, my desire for unhealthy foods was under my control. My taste buds were newly awakened by a variety of healthy alternatives that I’d found. I looked forward to my afternoon bike rides, which gave me much-needed exercise and offered me the alone time I needed for meditation.
What started out as one day quickly progressed to six months, and I was 45 pounds lighter. During my follow-up doctor’s visit, I couldn’t wait to get on that scale and stand there, weighing under 400 pounds.
As if God knew I needed structure and a plan for what I was trying to accomplish, He allowed my path to cross with the wonderful people of the Canyon Ranch Institute, who had visited Curtis V. Cooper Primary Health Care, where I am chairman of the board of directors. CRI, through the generosity of Charles H. and Rosalie Morris, partnered with Curtis V. Cooper to offer our patients the CRI Life Enhancement Program to help them learn to make healthier life choices for themselves and their families.
I was enthusiastic about being on the core team for CRI LEP in Savannah, and was thrilled to spend a week at the Canyon Ranch health resort in Tucson, Arizona, as part of the required core team member training. Working with the Canyon Ranch Institute and the participants in the CRI LEP in Savannah has given me structure and clarity to continue the healthy changes I started on my own.
I now understand and practice portion control, the need for interval training, lean body mass index, the benefits of a good night’s sleep and so much more.
This is why I chose “serendipity” as the theme of this message. I began my process to simply lose weight and avoid the early death so common in my family’s history. With the grace of God and hard work, in trying to avoid an unhealthy death, I found a new life that I never knew existed. Today, two years later, I am 124 pounds lighter and medication-free. I went from being pre-everything to becoming post-all things.
My life depended on making changes, and now I share my story because I truly believe there are others who can learn and grow from my experience and have a happier, healthier life, too.
Brown is a Savannah native. He is pastor of the Second African Baptist Church, chaplain’s coordinator for the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department, and chairman of the board of directors for Curtis V. Cooper Primary Health Care Inc.