A Dream Ten Years In The Making
WLS For Identical Twin Sisters
by Antonia Namnath and Jennifer Tarlin
Photo courtesy of Yvonne McCarthy

For identical twin sisters Connie and Rosemary, the recent grant for Connie’s gastric bypass surgery was a dream come true, after a 10 year struggle for insurance approval. With 347 pounds on her 5’0’ frame, Connie continued to be denied, while Rosemary at 447 pounds and 4’11? was approved for gastric bypass surgery in 2004. She has now reached her goal weight and is enjoying life again. However, it has been difficult as she sees her twin struggling in daily life. Insurance stated there was an exclusion clause for weight loss surgery. According to the documentary Surviving to Thriving, Rosemary felt “like she was being shot, her heart ached—she felt her sister’s pain.? As Rosemary continued to lose weight and enjoy everyday activities, she worried for her sister’s future.

Rosemary and Connie have dealt with obesity their entire lives. Shunned by society and even family as they grew up in Texas, disappointment was all too familiar to the sisters. Losing their father at the age of four was the beginning of their struggles. Their father spoiled them and made them feel special. The twins became victims of sexual trauma, and food became a comfort, while the abuse was kept a secret, even from their mother. Both sisters used food to self -medicate and protect them. As Rosemary states in a documentary about their life entitled Surviving to Thriving, food helped build “bigger shells?.

By the time Rosemary and Connie were adults, they were both morbidly obese. Both sisters had type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and painful arthritic joints inflamed from years of supporting more weight than they were designed to carry. Each twin experienced a turning point when they fell and could not help themselves. For Rosemary, she was at school teaching and could not get off the floor and needed assistance. Connie was at home and her husband was unable to assist her. He called the fire department and three men lifted her off the floor. In 2004, Rosemary was approved for gastric bypass surgery. Connie was also insured, but her policy had an exclusion for weight-loss surgery coverage. She continued to be denied over the years, despite her doctors writing appeal letters to the insurance company. The twins were no longer identical, and it put a strain on their relationship.

Torture is not too strong of a word for what these identical twins went through the day Rosemary received approval for weight loss surgery and Connie was denied. Rosemary had great success after her surgery. She thrived at her new healthy weight, enjoying the simple things in life that had never been hers. Riding a roller coaster, fitting in an airplane seat, and walking in the park with her grandchildren were now a part of her daily life.

One day in 2010, Rosemary excitedly called her sister to let her know some news. Connie was going to have her gastric bypass surgery! The Weight Loss Surgery Foundation of America, founded in 2010 by Antonia Namnath, awarded their first grant for surgery to Connie. Dr. Garth Davis of the Davis Clinic of Houston, Texas and star of the reality show Big Medicine, would be performing the surgery. Rosemary felt luckier than winning the lottery. She was so happy for her twin. The twins would become identical once again.

Connie and Rosemary share everything. They speak on the phone multiple times daily and share the magical bond only identical twins know. Connie learned about You Tube while searching for information on a protein drink diet she was taking, and found Alison Pacinos’s YouTube videos. Connie and Rosemary became enthralled, and like many people in the WLS (weight loss surgery) community, spent many hours watching videos of people before, during, and after weight loss surgery. It was not long before Rosemary made her own now famous channel GastricRose. Connie started her channel focusing on her life’s passion, quilting, and she became known as QuiltingConnieB. People were now discovering them. Rosemary quickly became one of the most beloved WLS vloggers. In 2010, she was voted Most Loved You Tuber by her peers. Her compassion and honesty, as well as her quick wit and smile, are contagious to watch! 

One fan was YouTuber AntoniaTakeTwo (i.e., Antonia Namnath, co- author of this article) and when I heard that many WLS vloggers were going to Las Vegas in February 2010, I knew I had to be there, and that Rosemary had to be there too! Sixty or so WLS people attended the Meet & Greet. It was magical to meet people who had helped us change our lives for the better. As I spent time talking with Rosemary and learned about Connie. I had an overwhelming feeling of sadness and compassion for both of the sisters. I knew I could no longer enjoy the healthy life given to me by the tool of weight loss surgery, knowing so many like Connie had no hope of sharing my same happy fate.

Sitting in a room full of happy WLS Peeps (as we call ourselves), the vision to start a nonprofit organization by and for weight loss surgery patients was born. As soon as I returned home, I began researching to see if such a non-profit existed. I found wonderful obesity related organizations. However, I did not find anyone giving grants for surgery. On April 26, 2010, the Weight Loss Surgery Foundation of America was founded. We built our Board and started making calls, sending e-mails and spreading the word about the WLSFA.

WLS Volunteers jumped on board as soon as they saw the first YouTube video about the WLSFA, and even pitched in to create the logo. Volunteers set up and managed our website, ran fundraisers, and do whatever it takes to help us raise money and resources to fund surgeries. Volunteers spent hours mailing and calling bariatric surgeons, asking them to join our cause by donating surgeries and funds to build a foundation with their patient community, in order for those who could not afford it, to have the chance at having surgery. Mike and Toni Towe of www.BariatricTV.com volunteered their time, expertise, and equipment to create a beautiful documentary “Surviving To Thriving? about the twins in August of 2010. This is found on the WLSFA website at www.wlsfa.org.

Connie’s story was the inspiration for the vision of the WLSFA. Connie was selected as our inaugural weight loss surgery recipient.

Sarah Halbrook, the person who put together the first Vegas Meet & Greet, was selected as the inaugural reconstructive plastic surgery grant recipient. 

On March 23, 2011, Connie was granted her weight loss surgery! Connie’s ten year battle to gain access to weight loss surgery is over and she is finally on the loser’s bench! Dr. Garth Davis and his father, Dr. Robert Davis of the Davis Clinic, performed Connie’s gastric bypass surgery at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center in Houston, Texas. Our second surgery for Sarah Halbrook is planned for the summer of 2011.

Today, a year after the WLSFA was formed; the organization has accomplished a lot in a short period of time. Partnering with the BLIS Foundation, the WLSFA gained its 501(c) 3 status as a non-profit. The WLSFA works with BLIS approved surgeons and hospitals. For each grant, a BLIS Complication Insurance Policy is issued assuring coverage for patient, doctor and hospital should there be any complication from surgery. With the support of the medical community and the weight loss surgery patient community, the WLSFA is working hard to help the many people denied access to weight loss surgery. Applications for the next grant cycle will be available later this year at the WLSFA website.    

“I envision myself moving, running, and driving my grandkids to the movies. I have not driven in years,? states Connie in the documentary Surviving to Thriving. “You will get a chance to be the most awesome, healthy person. We will live together. We can get on a plane together and go,? states her sister Rosemary. The WLSFA intends to help many more people. This is just a beginning.

To learn more about the foundation and how you can help go to:
Phone: 415-233-1074
Mail: 417 Mace Blvd. Suite J -236 Davis CA 95618
On You Tube:

Article ID: WD192