By the time Colton Lowe reached 478 pounds, he’d been overweight for as long as he could remember.
The combination of eating too much and not moving enough left Lowe weighing 350 pounds when he graduated high school, but “things kind of accelerated” in the couple of years afterwards, he recalled.
After getting his first job and making a bit of money, he’d go to restaurants every day. Food sometimes became a coping mechanism when he was frustrated.
Still, Lowe, who lives in Conroe, Texas, tolerated his weight until two incidents changed everything. The first was a convention he attended for work in 2019 where he was on his feet all day. When he’d get home, he couldn’t feel his legs and was alarmed that they were red and swollen.
“(But) the final nail in the coffin was I had purchased a project car to work on and I spent a good part of six to seven months working on it. When I went in for my first test drive, I realized I couldn’t fit in the car,” Lowe, 23, who works as a sales manager at an auto parts store, told TODAY.
“I couldn't do things I wanted to do, so I needed to do something about it.”
When Lowe found he couldn’t lose the weight on his own, he saw that his health insurance covered bariatric surgery. He decided to look into it as a New Year’s resolution and made an appointment with a doctor in January 2021.
Weighing 478 pounds at 5 feet, 9 inches tall, Lowe was declared a good candidate for the procedure. In April 2021, Lowe underwent gastric sleeve surgery, also known as sleeve gastrectomy, at Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center in Texas.
During the procedure, doctors remove about 80% of the stomach, including the portion that produces most of the “hunger hormone,” according to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.
The remaining stomach is the size of a banana so it holds less food and increases a patient’s sense of fullness, the group noted.
After the surgery, Lowe recalled that when he would eat something, he would know it.
“I would feel it sit there in my stomach and I’m just like, ‘Ugh, I don’t want to eat anymore,’ which is what the point of the surgery was,” he said.
'I cannot mess this up'
Lowe now carefully measures his portions so that they fit plates no bigger than 6 inches in diameter. The surgery required making changes to his diet, including staying away from sugary foods and empty carbs. Lowe also can’t drink anything carbonated because the extra air can cause his stomach to expand out, leading to discomfort. He’s been determined to make the surgery a success.
“I just made it clear to myself that I cannot mess this up. I just needed to be essentially a good boy and follow the rules,” he noted.
It worked. By late last year, Lowe had lost 200 pounds. That’s when another health crisis shook his world and showed how critical his weight loss could be for another member of his family.
Lowe’s father, Edward, was diagnosed with liver failure and needed a liver transplant. He was put on the national waiting list, but the life-saving surgery would likely happen quicker if the family could find a living donor.
Lowe knew he matched blood types with his dad, so “it was a no brainer” that he would volunteer. But there was also a weight requirement: The liver donor’s BMI couldn’t be over 32.
Weight loss had a 'bigger purpose'
To Lowe’s “huge relief,” his BMI had already dropped to 30 — down from 70 at his maximum weight — so he would have qualified. But by the time he underwent testing to make sure he could donate, a cadaver liver had already become available. That’s the organ his father received during transplant surgery last month.
Still, Lowe was glad to know his own liver was an option for his dad thanks to his weight loss.
“I do feel a lot better about that… if ever the time comes, we will get it done together,” he said. “This weight loss had a bigger purpose than just me.”
Today, Lowe weighs 198 pounds — almost 300 less than his starting point last year. He called the difference “night and day,” noting his confidence is up and he feels a lot more comfortable.
As for the car he couldn’t fit into not long ago: “I can fit two of me in there now,” Lowe said.