‘Courageous’ Nadler to Face Second Surgery

Posted July 18, 2003 at 3:47pm

As Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) approaches the one-year anniversary of his life-altering decision to tackle a serious weight problem with surgery, his friends in Congress say they see a changed man — and someone who has helped to alter other lives.

For one, he’s smaller — about 75 pounds lighter, to be exact. Beyond that, Nadler, who will undergo the second and final part of his gastric bypass procedure a few days from now, seems to have a whole new outlook on life.

“It’s certainly made him feel better about himself — more confident and happy,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who served with him in the New York state Assembly and after 30 years of friendship refers to Nadler as “probably my best friend in Congress.”

Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) said his 56-year-old colleague, who once tipped the scale at more than 300 pounds, has become an incredible source of inspiration for others.

“The most important thing I can say is that Jerry Nadler not only did this to improve his health and appearance, but more importantly for me, he allowed his experience to become public,” Rangel said.

“I thought it was pretty courageous for him to go public and share his most personal experience,” Rangel said, explaining that thousands of Americans with similar challenges learned through Nadler’s experience about options that are out there to help.

Indeed, the spotlight seemed to shine on the Manhattan lawmaker like never before last fall when he announced that he had spent part of his August recess undergoing stage one of a laparoscopic duodenal switch.

Beyond the painful surgery, Nadler also impacted friends and strangers alike as he decided to open up about the emotional pain of obesity — the jokes, stares, snickers and other forms of prejudice — he has had to endure over the years.

In the initial surgery, more than half of Nadler’s stomach was removed, leaving only a small pouch and thus reducing his eating.

The Congressman used to wolf down a salad, a bowl of soup, a steak, french fries, vegetables, bread, butter and dessert for a typical lunch, according to a New York Times profile.

These days, a four ounce steak sandwich — sans the bread — does the trick.

The Congressman has since shed about 75 pounds and during the upcoming recess this August, Nadler plans to head back to Mt. Sinai Hospital for the second and final phase of the surgery.

“It’s a two-phased procedure,” explained Nadler spokeswoman Jennie McCue. “The first phase removes part of the stomach to make the patient feel full. The second part actually involves the bypass of the small intestine.”

Nadler, who is not commenting these days as he prepares for the surgery, said on CNN last year that he had grown exasperated.

“I tried the liquid diets. I tried Fen-Phen, the drugs. I tried Weight Watchers. I went to Duke University — its weight-reduction program, stayed there for months — just about five years ago,” Nadler said. “And I would always lose some weight, sometimes as much as 30 or 40 pounds, and put it back on.”

By 2002, it became clear to Nadler that he had to try the surgery despite the risks — one in every 200 people die from it.

“I was thinking, ‘I’m getting older. I’m 55 years old. I have a 17-year-old son who is applying to college. I want to see my grandchildren. I want to see them grow up,’” Nadler told CNN Anchor Bill Hemmer. “I have a lot more to do in my public life, and you start worrying about the statistics catching up with you, in terms of life expectancy, in terms of other diseases that result from obesity” like heart disease or diabetes.

Engel called Nadler’s decision both to have the surgery and to talk about it “courageous.”

“At some point, people say, ‘Aren’t you afraid of the danger?’ I think he realized that the danger to his health from not having the surgery was even greater than having it,” Engel said.

McCue, who said the second surgery had been anticipated from the very beginning, noted that her boss was not exactly in the mood for pre-surgical interviews right now. But she added that because of his new diet and exercise routine, he’s feeling better than ever and “looks great.”

The Congressman, who used to avoid the New York subway because he didn’t want to climb the stairs and could not manage the stairs of the Capitol, recently told The Associated Press that he is looking forward to losing even more weight.

The 5-foot-4-inch lawmaker hopes to reach a svelte 160 pounds — and perhaps even start playing softball again.