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The transformation

Article-The transformation

Key iconKey Points

  • After failed diets and multiple weight-related health problems, one woman decided to undergo gastric bypass surgery
  • After massive weight loss, however, she found herself facing a new problem: excess skin

Chicago Public School teacher Celia Nobles took the first step toward reclaiming her life in 2003. After five decades as a "fat baby, fat teenager and fat adult," scores of failed diets, and hypertension and chronic aches and pains that limited her in both her professional and personal life, she had gastric bypass surgery. As a result, she shed 150 pounds from her petite 5'1" frame. However, she was left with a new problem she felt made her "look worse than when I weighed 300 pounds."

As the weight disappeared, the extra skin around her midsection and her arms, caught the attention of her preschool Head Start students, who exclaimed, "Ms. Nobles, you have wings!" Due to the excess skin, she could not work up the nerve to start dating again.

DREAM TEAM FOR SELF-ESTEEM After consulting various plastic surgeons, she found the cost to have the skin removed prohibitive—a procedure not covered by insurance.

It was then she saw a newspaper ad for an upcoming event called the the second annual "Chicago Esteem Makeover." Michael Epstein, M.D., and Rodger Pielet, M.D., then partners in a plastic surgery practice, had joined forces with a personal trainer, photographer, fashion consultant, cosmetic and general dentist, ophthalmologist, psychotherapist and a hair stylist — collectively known as the "Esteem Team" — to select a man and a woman to receive complete pro bono makeovers. Feeling her chances of being selected were slim, Ms. Nobles nonetheless entered the event without telling her family. To her surprise, out of hundreds of applicants, she was selected as the female winner.

In the weeks prior to the September 30, 2005, surgery, she worked closely with personal trainer Michael Kates, losing 15 pounds. She also met with Drs. Epstein and Pielet, who, in addition to a panniculectomy, suggested rhinoplasty, an endoscopic brow lift and a breast lift. She agreed, admittedly not having considered other possibilities and seeing this as a rare second chance at life.

The surgeries were conducted in one marathon session. Fifteen pounds of skin were removed from her midsection, which Dr. Epstein compared to putting on pants and then pulling them way up. On December 1, 2005, Ms. Nobles returned to the school where she had worked for the past seven years to the pleasant shock and disbelief of her coworkers and students, who had not known why she had taken the leave of absence. Ms. Nobles continued working with the trainer for a time after the surgery, but now has her own exercise regimen. She walks for an hour every morning with her golden retriever and parks far away when going to the mall or shopping.

According to Ms. Nobles, the results of the makeover "gave me the confidence to enter a room with my head up. And, I'm learning how to flirt."

TOPPING REALITY T.V. The first Chicago Esteem Makeover took place in 2004, the brainchild of specialists from a variety of professions devoted to self-improvement.

The philanthropic endeavor was designed to give back to the community and to help one man and one woman overcome their physical insecurities, gain confidence and feel good about themselves, according to Andrea Foreman-Brook of AB Public Relations, Buffalo Grove, Ill., the firm that handled publicity for the event. With popular television shows such as "Extreme Makeover" and "The Swan" as a backdrop, the Chicago Esteem Makeover was eagerly covered by the local media, and hundreds of people attended the search held on July 16, 2004.

When their turn came to present themselves to the Esteem Team, "some [applicants] were so overcome with emotion they could barely get the words out," Ms. Foreman-Brook recalls.

The one common denominator shared by all event applicants was low self-esteem.

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