For as long as he can remember, Peter Harrigan struggled with his weight. He was in grade school when his family doctor put him on his first diet.
“Weight has been a lifelong battle for me,” he said. “Three of my four grandparents were husky, as we used to say.”
After he retired in 2011, he began gaining more weight. By January 2014, he weighed 401 pounds. He had high blood pressure, peripheral artery disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and walked with a cane.
“I was never big on physical fitness,” said Harrigan, 63, of Rehoboth Beach. “But after I retired, I became even more sedentary.”
His primary care physician recommended he enter a weight-management program at Christiana Care Health System.
“She had diagnosed me with morbid obesity, and that was a wakeup call for me,” he said.
Fit4Life at Christiana Care is a 12-week personalized weight-loss coaching program that integrates healthy eating, exercise and behavior changes. Harrigan embarked on a modified Fit4Life program, which included OPTIFAST meal replacements. After completing the 12-week program he would have six months of follow-up, meeting with his dietitian twice a month.
“The weekly contact helps the dietitian and patient identify and manage any problems quickly,” said Kim Tran, RPh, MBA, director of the Christiana Care Weight Management Center. “The maintenance phase is as important as the active weight-loss phase. This is when the patients learn to apply their healthy habits in the real world.”
Harrigan traveled weekly to the Preventive Medicine and Rehabilitation Institute at Pelleport in Wilmington to meet with his dietitian to review his food diary and plan meals.
“The drive back and forth to Wilmington is good thinking time,” he said.
He had a fitness evaluation and consultation with an exercise physiologist to establish a personal workout program and schedule monthly checkups and measurements. Participants in the program also have access to a support group.
“Martha Henley, RD, M.Ed, my clinical dietitian, helped me to radically change my eating habits by considering the quality, benefits and consequences of what I eat,” Harrigan said. “Erin Egan, MS, my exercise physiologist, worked with me patiently to find ways I could exercise despite my arthritic knees, which strengthened my legs and significantly improved my quality of life.”
By July, Harrigan had lost 80 pounds and trimmed 10 inches off his waistline.
The program’s multidisciplinary approach benefits patients by providing more resources and greater access to care, says Omar Khan, M.D., MPH, medical director of the Preventive Medicine and Rehabilitation Institute. “By collaborating across various services, we provide greater value to our neighbors,” he said.
Harrigan is bursting with energy and feeling better than he has in years.
“I no longer need a cane. I can stand without leg pain. I can exert myself without shortness of breath,” he said. “My blood pressure, COPD and peripheral artery disease have all improved.”
As an expression of gratitude, he donated $1,000 to Christiana Care.
Tran says she often receives feedback from patients whose lives have been transformed through weight management programs at Christiana Care.
“We hear from Type 2 diabetics who are now off insulin and are exercising six days a week,” she said. “People tell us they enjoy flying without asking for a seat extension.”
Today, Harrigan and his wife Joanne exercise 45 minutes each day at their gym at home.
“I have a NuStep (recumbent cross trainer), which is not painful to my knees,” he said. “I also work with dumbbells and resistance training.”
When he visits an Italian restaurant, he orders chicken and salad, “no pasta, no bread.”
“I know there are consequences,” he said. “An apple tart today means more time working out tomorrow.”