Feb. 15, 2012 at 10:00 AM ET
Nine years after a gastric bypass surgery that may have saved her life, Star Jones tried to explain to her fans why she kept the weight-loss surgery so private for so long.
“It really ticked them off,” Jones told TODAY’s Matt Lauer. “Because I was so public with all other aspects of my life I think the audience felt betrayed in some way. And I completely understand that. The reason I say I don’t regret that, Matt, is it really worked for me. It allowed me to get emotionally safe and secure.”
Jones said she couldn’t go through the process publicly because she feared she would fail.
“I’m not sure I thought I would be successful at it, to be honest with you,” she told Lauer. “I thought I’d gain the weight back. I had never been successful at losing weight before. I needed to forgive myself for being such a smart girl and so stupid when it came to something like my health.”
Jones decided to talk to her fans about the surgery because she wants women to understand the toll that extra pounds can take on the heart.
Back in 2003, Jones decided she had to take control of her weight. She’d been heavy all her life, but by then her weight had climbed to over 300 pounds.
“I wasn’t full-figured,” she said. “I wasn’t plus-size. I was morbidly obese. I never thought I would be in front of a camera and say those words. I was morbidly obese.”
As the pounds kept piling on Jones began to fear for her health – and her life.
“I couldn’t walk the stairs,” she said. “I couldn’t walk the airport length without having to stop and catch my breath. My greatest fear was that I would die in my apartment alone from a stroke or a heart attack – too big to get to the phone. And I made up my mind that whatever it took, I was gonna lose that weight.”
As a last ditch effort, Jones went in for the bypass operation even though she was frightened she might not survive. “I don’t think people realize that back in 2003 gastric bypass was still a pretty dangerous procedure,” she said.
The operation was traumatic in some ways she hadn’t anticipated.
“I do remember having to be weighed that day,” she said. “The scale they used was one of those industrial ones. And I swore I would never get on one of those again.”
But the surgery was successful and Jones’s weight loss was dramatic – and that led to speculation in the media over how she managed to drop so many pounds so fast.
“Emotionally I made the decision not to discuss it publicly,” she said. “I was depressed and confused and not really ready. And I don’t apologize for it. I know people really want me to say that I wish I would have told everybody. I did it the way I needed to do it.”
Jones dropped from a size 26 to a size 6. She improved her diet and started to exercise regularly. And it all seemed to pay off. She felt good. She seemed healthy.
But then in 2010, she started to experience odd symptoms.
“Shortness of breath, heart palpitations, lightheadedness – I thought it was residual effects of the gastric bypass,” she told Lauer. “Dumb me. Those are the early signs of heart disease for women.”
Jones was diagnosed with heart disease in January of 2010 and doctors recommended she have surgery to repair a malfunctioning aortic valve and to drain fluid that had been building up around her heart.
The surgery was a success. But Jones felt she had a duty to warn women about the disease that almost killed her. She’s teamed up with the American Heart Association to try to spread the word. “Heart disease is the number one killer of women,” she told Lauer. “It beats all the next four causes of death combined. It’s why I volunteer with the American Heart Association. I’m alive today because I decided to lose weight and take control of my health.”
Jones’s message is simple: “Eat less and move more. It’s what saved my life.”
Linda Carroll is a regular contributor to msnbc.com and TODAY.com. She is co-author of the new book "The Concussion Crisis: Anatomy of a Silent Epidemic.”