Finding New Purpose by Losing 165 Pounds

Dawn Thomas had to make a decision to accept an inevitable death sentence or to lose enough weight to keep her alive. Topping the scales at 312 pounds this time last year, the 36-year-old mother decided, “I want to be around for my kids….”

The Sidney resident was battling a combination of morbid obesity, Sjogren’s Syndrome, and Chronic pancreatitis. One physician’s prognosis was bleak, “…You have two chronic diseases, and you are going to die in the next ten years.”

That is, unless the mother of three young children was willing to tackle her weight problem. It was causing her to be one point away from diabetes, have high blood pressure, and her heart was showing early signs of distress.

Diann Nussbaum was helplessly watching her daughter’s life slip away. “She has had so many medical problems… [that] is why I moved here,” said Thomas’s 64-year-old mother. She relocated to Sidney from Virginia to be closer to her daughter.

In 1997, Dawn herself had moved to Sidney when her husband, Shane Thomas was hired by Emerson Climate Technologies. She had spent most of her formative years in Virginia, since her father was in the Navy. Sadly, Dawn’s dad died in 2000 of a massive heart attack when he was in his mid-fifties.

Growing up, Dawn Thomas struggled with low self-esteem. “I was a real shy person.” She remembers feeling, “…like I didn’t belong.” People at school would call her, “Chunky,” which had a lasting impact. “My mom had found diet pills. I felt I needed to lose weight, but looking back at pictures, I wasn’t fat at all,” she said. “I think I had this view you had to be super-thin to fit in.”

In 1995, Shane and Dawn married when she was only 19.  Her weight problem “was starting at that time.” Dealing with fertility issues and being diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, “I continued to balloon.” After eight years, the couple was finally able to conceive twin girls, Faith and Kierstin who are now seven.

Following their birth, Dawn was constantly ill. Finally, in 2007, the young mother was diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome, an auto-immune disease in the category of Lupus. By then the 5’6” woman, “…was very heavy…close to 300 pounds.”

Dawn worked at Sidney’s Amos Memorial Public Library for five years and cared for her family. Yet there was more illness and operations to reverse the damage caused by the Sjogren’s Syndrome. In 2009, in the midst of it all, Dawn gave birth to her son, Hunter.

She was a young woman trapped inside of a body that was failing her, and she was desperate to find help. She had tried all “those TV things that promise you are going to lose all this weight,” she said. Through one weight loss program she was able to lose 60 pounds, but then she “gained it back, and more.”

By August 2010, a determined Dawn began to explore the possibility of Gastric Bypass surgery at The Ohio State University Medical Center. Not everyone was happy with her decision to use Bariatric surgery as a tool to help her lose weight.

Even her mother was terrified of what could happen. “I fought her tooth and nail, but I was wrong,” said Diann Nussbaum. Yet her mom also knew that if, “…she doesn’t lose the weight, [her daughter could] be dead in 10 years.”

Shane Thomas stood by his wife’s decision, “He just wanted me to feel better, and he just wanted me around,” said Dawn.  Her church, First Baptist Church in Vandalia rallied around her, too. “I have a very supportive church and small group praying for me…some of them showed up at the hospital. I felt like God was going to get me through this,” she said.

Dawn has lived her entire life clinging to a Biblical verse that says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13 MKJV) She was going to need that strength, because following her Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass surgery on April 26, 2011, complications required a second emergency surgery within a day. Waking up on a ventilator in the Intensive Care Unit was terrifying, but within weeks Dawn’s life began to change positively.

Today, a brand-new Dawn who is 165 pounds lighter is almost unrecognizable. The attractive redhead works out faithfully with her mother at the Sidney-Shelby County YMCA, and is disciplined about her eating habits.

“I am happier and my self-esteem is soaring now…My Sjogren’s is under control. My blood pressure is great now. I’m not near diabetes, [and] everything is better because of weight loss,” she said. Still she cautions those contemplating Gastric Bypass, “It’s not an easy surgery, and you have to make the changes.”

Her new-found confidence has also been the catalyst for her attending Sinclair Community College to become a radiologic technologist. In her first quarter there this past winter, she made the Dean’s list.

“I feel like I have a purpose somehow, and that I can inspire other people to make changes in their life,” said Dawn. For folks feeling hopeless for any reason, she encourages them, “Don’t give up. Find a support group. ….cling to your church group.”

Most of all, the Sidney woman believes that, “God has a purpose for you, and He is going to get you through.”

This column was originally published in the Sidney Daily News on April 18 , 2012. Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker.  Contact her through her website at 

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