Dan Blanchat has the look of a man who has worked hard all his life.
His 54-year-old body is lean and tan. It is hard for him to sit still.
Seven years ago, it was a different story.
He was 373 pounds heavier. His job was in jeopardy.
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Since then, he lost some weight – nearly 325 pounds – had gastric bypass surgery, became discouraged, drank beer – lots of beer – ate cheeseburgers and gained nearly all of it back.
Two years ago, the same boss who told him to lose the weight initially sat him down again and told him to get his life together and lose the weight – again.
Blanchat’s story is about the willingness to try again.
The first time Allen Grunder told Blanchat he had to lose weight, things were critical. It wasn’t that he was a bad employee, said Grunder, a retired area engineer for the Kansas Department of Transportation.
“There were times I wished I had 50 Dan Blanchats in terms of his attitude in getting stuff done,” he said.
No, Grunder said, it was more an issue about health and safety.
“He was a 545-pound person, and I was concerned about the safety of other individuals,” Grunder said.
“I couldn’t put him out flagging. He had a hard time climbing into the trucks, and if he did need help, at his size who would be able to help him?
“I wrote him a letter telling him it was about job performance. There were things he could not do. I told him he needed to go to a doctor and get on a program to start losing the weight. I didn’t want him doing it by himself.”
Blanchat ended up at Via Christi Weight Management in Wichita.
Brent Lancaster performed Blanchat’s gastric bypass surgery in 2006. The immediate result is the person begins to lose weight.
But the surgery doesn’t cure everything, Lancaster said.
“It is another tool in the tool chest to help you lose weight,” Lancaster said. “We have eight weeks of pre-op education before we operate on a person. After they have the surgery, they’ll know what lifestyle they will need to adopt. Our hope is that we provide the education so people can make lifestyle changes long term.
“When I operate on somebody, I don’t know if they will keep it off. We hope by educating them, we can increase the success rate. If they have kept their weight off after five or six years, that’s when I know we are doing good.”
A step back
Blanchat went from 545 pounds to 220.
But after he lost the weight, Blanchat said, he wasn’t prepared for how people treated him differently.
His self-esteem plummeted. After a while, Blanchat said he simply lost interest in keeping the weight off.
“It had been coming on all my life,” he said.
Two years ago, when Grunder told Blanchat again to lose weight, Blanchat went through an alcohol treatment program.
Within days of quitting the beer and cheeseburgers, the weight started coming off. He went back to Via Christi Weight Management.
Louise Newman, program coordinator for Via Christi Weight Management, remembers the phone call when she asked him if he had gained his weight back.
“Yes, ma’am, and I’m embarrassed,” came his reply.
“We live in a tough environment where we are encouraged to eat 24/7,” Newman said. “I couldn’t be any more prouder of him. The remarkable part is the fact that after he gained it back, he came back and lost the weight the hard way by counting calories.
“This isn’t about faith, hope and willpower. It is about skills and behavior. You can lose weight anywhere, the hard part is keeping it off.
“Don’t we all know that?”
Blanchat is a social ambassador for Danville, where he serves on the city council. It’s a small farming community of nearly 40 people in Harper County.
He is in his 34th year of working for the Kansas Department of Transportation, and he farms and helps take care of his parents.
Each Wednesday, he drives an hour to Wichita to attend weekly support classes on nutrition.
After the weight came off the second time, he had two surgeries to remove excess skin on his stomach and thighs. He signed a release so the healthy skin tissue could be re-used by others, if needed. He was one of the largest people plastic surgeon Joseph Poggi said he had ever worked on.
“Anytime people lose that much weight, they are left with skin folds,” Poggi said. “Anytime they look in the mirror, they still see the fat person. They get disenchanted.”
At first, Newman recalled, she always saw Blanchat in overalls. Now, he wears sleeveless shirts and tight fitting jeans with a 34 waist – something that he hasn’t done since the eighth grade. He is down to 172 pounds.
He is constantly moving, walking, climbing up, down, in and out of semi trucks. Air-conditioning makes him too cold.
He has a new life. He’s actively involved in the local Catholic youth group.
His eyes well up and his voice cracks when he talks about his nieces and nephews.
“I have missed several weddings of nieces and nephews because I didn’t want to buy two tickets to get on a plane,” he said. “I was very conscious of how I looked. I didn’t want to embarrass my family.”
A few weeks ago, while he was plowing a field late at night, a niece in California sent him a text telling him she was engaged. He told her to plan on him attending.
“I’ve never been married. I’ve got no kids. I got a lot of hurt inside,” Blanchat said. “So, I am healing right now.
“The external is healed, but the internal is what I’m working on now. I want to take the time to see what I’ve missed out on in life.”