Rainer Schulz: My Pilgrimage Was Just the Beginning
Bariatric Surgery at Beebe Allowed Rehoboth Man to Improve His Life
Rainer Schulz of Rehoboth Beach walked 560 miles in six-and-a-half weeks. It was something he and his mother talked about doing many years ago – the El Camino pilgrimage in Spain.
“It is something very common for Germans and Europeans to do,” said Rainer, who was born in Germany. “I always wanted to do it but never was healthy enough to be confident I could finish it.”
The pilgrimage also known as the Way of St. James was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during the Middle Ages because it followed the path of the body of St. James through northern Spain to his final resting place at Santiago de Compostela.
During the trek, Rainer stayed at various inns or hostels along the route. “It was easy to tell on the road who was a pilgrim and who was just a local out walking – you could smell the difference,” he said with a chuckle.
Back in Rehoboth Beach, Rainer is proud to share his story and the way he was able to achieve this lifelong goal.
“It’s simple – I would not have been able to do it without having bariatric surgery,” Rainer said. “There was no way I was ever fit enough to make the pilgrimage.”
A Powerful Tool for Weight Loss
Rainer first met Michael Sofronski, MD, following a recommendation from Rainer’s primary care physician.
“I was sick and having many health issues – diabetes, blood pressure issues – and it was all because of my weight,” he said. “My doctor asked if I would consider surgery and I said I would. Meeting Dr. Sofronski was the first step to my new life. He was incredibly passionate and honest with me. He said it would be a difficult road but that he could help me.”
Dr. Sofronski specializes in bariatric or weight loss surgery at Beebe. He primarily performs sleeve gastrectomy surgeries where the stomach is reduced to 30% of its size.
Prior to the surgery, patients keep a food journal and follow a healthy, low-fat and high-protein diet for six months. Patients also see a psychologist for counseling. There are also pre-surgery tests that must be done to make sure each person is healthy enough for surgery.
Dr. Sofronski now performs the majority of his bariatric surgeries robotically with the da Vinci Xi Surgical System at Beebe’s Center for Robotic Surgery.
“Losing weight is a struggle, but for some people they are unable to lose as much weight as they need to in order to be healthy,” said Dr. Sofronski. “Adults who have a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or higher are considered to be potential candidates for bariatric surgery.”
The surgery is minimally invasive and, in many cases, the patient is able to go home the following day.
“After surgery, I felt tired and a little sore. I was happy to be able to go home and start to recuperate,” Rainer recalls. “Everyone at Beebe was so supportive of me. They were encouraging and happy to talk to me about my goals.”
Once home, Rainer started the work of really using his new body to lose weight and regain his health.
“The surgery is not like a magic pill. It is a tool – a powerful tool – that you are able to use to lose the weight. But, you have to do the work. You have to follow the guidelines and recommendations from the doctor,” he said. “There are reasons I gained so much weight – both physical and mental – and I continue to tackle them.”
Rainer continues to see a counselor to talk about his relationship with food. He also works with a physical trainer at the Rehoboth YMCA where he lifts weights, does yoga, and started doing aqua aerobics. He also enjoys bicycling and regularly walks his dogs for longer distances than he did in the past.
He also continues to keep a food journal, especially during difficult times.
“The weight will creep back on, so if I ever get concerned or it’s an especially stressful time, I will go back to writing down everything I eat. It’s a great way to be cognizant of what you are putting in your body,” he said.
Rainer has lost 120 pounds on his journey. He lost 30 pounds prior to surgery by following Dr. Sofronski’s diet plan. Then following surgery, he lost another 90 pounds.
“I am happy with my success, but I want to keep going and work on building muscle and strength,” he said. “I still think of myself as a heavy person so that mindset will take some time to adjust as well.”
Health & Happiness Benefits
Rainer grew up in Germany and spent two years in the German Airforce. He then moved to the United States in 1989 where he worked in IT on computer systems.
“I love computers and figuring out how they work and what we can do with them. My house is completely automated, and I am teaching computer classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute,” he said. “I was lucky in my career to have been offered early retirement, which I have enjoyed, but enjoy even more now with my health.”
In addition to losing weight and being more active, Rainer is also seeing an effect on his overall health. He has been able to go off of some medications and reduce others. He has reduced his blood pressure medications and hopes to stop needing anxiety medication.
At 57, Rainer feels he has a new lease on life. He hopes to travel more and expects to compete in the Rehoboth Half Marathon this fall.
“When I used to travel to New York or Germany, I would buy passes for public transportation, but now I can walk everywhere and it allows me to enjoy where I am even more,” he said. “My best advice to anyone who wants to lose weight is to be patient and kind to yourself, set realistic expectations, plan for failure but be ready to start again and again.”
Due to COVID-19, our in-person education sessions and group support meetings have been postponed. However, if you are interested in bariatric surgery and have questions, the Bariatric Wellness Coordinator can help. Fill out the form here.