For Angela Sweeney, a 41-year-old mom from Lake Ann, Michigan, losing weight was supposed to be a good thing. She managed to drop almost 300 pounds over three years, a hugely impressive achievement. However, when she had plastic surgery to remove her excess skin, things went horribly wrong.
Sweeney had been severely obese for most of her adult life, in fact. In an interview on the television show The Doctors, she said, “In my twenties I was probably always 400 pounds if not higher, so I took it into my own hands. It took me about three years, and I’ve now lost 289 pounds.”
Like many people who undergo dramatic weight loss, Sweeney was left with large amounts of excess skin. The amount of such skin that’s left over when people lose weight depends on things such as genetics and lifestyle. And this skin doesn’t usually snap back into place without some help.
Unfortunately, excess skin is often an unpleasant problem to those who experience it. After putting in so much effort to lose weight, people are often disheartened to find that they don’t look like they imagined they would. It can be embarrassing and frustrating, not to mention sometimes totally unexpected.
The excess skin can lead to chafing and trapped-sweat issues, and it often makes losing more weight difficult. This is because it cause exercise to become increasingly difficult. Sometimes compression clothes can be used to keep skin in place during exercise, but this doesn’t always solve the problem.
“If you have modest amounts of loose skin in specific areas, a dermatologist can use a number of non-invasive skin tightening devices that use radiofrequency or ultrasound energy,” Dr. Christine Choi Kim told Men’s Fitness. On the other hand, if you have a lot of excess skin, surgery may be the only option.
And Sweeney opted for surgery, having found a doctor through a friend. The procedure is known as brachioplasty, and it removed the skin from the back of her arms. It was when the bandages were removed afterwards, however, that Sweeney’s problems began.
“I thought plastic surgeons were supposed to be the most important doctors, especially to make you feel better about yourself,” she said to the Traverse City Record Eagle. “He sent me home with holes in my arms, gaping wounds. They’re horrendous.”
The doctor in question had allegedly removed too much skin during the surgery. This reportedly left Sweeney in chronic pain due to the nerve damage and scarring. The wounds were also unsightly – Sweeney described them as being the most gruesome thing that she’d seen in her life.
When people lose weight, they’re often driven by a desire to improve their health and enjoy a better quality of life. But any enjoyment Sweeney had felt was seemingly cut short by the surgery. Moreover, she apparently even required skin grafts to help repair some of the damage done.
In this case, Sweeney reportedly wasn’t able to perform simple tasks such as lifting objects or even washing her own hair. As a result, she was forced to sell her cleaning business of 15 years. What’s more, she was mostly confined to her own home, where she was cared for by her husband.
Sweeney subsequently decided to get in contact with The Doctors show and tell the story of her surgery. She also informed the hosts of the financial hardships that she was suffering as a consequence. And their response seemed to take Sweeney’s breath away.
The show sent her to see a new surgeon, Dr. Matthew Smith. His practice is based near to Sweeney’s home and upon hearing about her predicament, he offered to do the work for free. Smith decided that his primary objective should be to remove and repair the painful skin grafts that Sweeney had endured.
It took several months, but Smith was able to heal the wounds and removed much of the initial skin graft. Sweeney certainly seemed a great deal happier with his efforts than those of the previous surgeon. And following another procedure in 2015, she was at last able to raise her arms above her head again.
“Fortunately, she did very well with the surgery,” Smith explained. “On the right side, I was able to remove the entire area of the skin graft. And on the left side, I was able to get out about 60 percent of the skin graft.”
The fantastic results of Smith’s intervention left Sweeney in floods of tears. “I cried for probably a day and a half,” she said. “I was just like ‘Oh my God, I can touch my hair, my ears, my face.’” Yet while the surgery had been a success, there was still a lot of work to do.
For one thing, Sweeney was struggling with a dependency on painkillers. They’d been prescribed to her in the wake of the first surgery to combat the pain that she had been in. During a follow-up appearance on The Doctors, though, she was able to announce that she’d beaten the addiction.
This Michigan mom also has rehab work to do – a lot of it. Because of her condition prior to the surgery, she needs to undergo physical therapy. Her lack of mobility and strength mean that she still can’t drive or lift anything heavier than ten pounds.
Smith also spoke to panel on The Doctors. “That was a great experience, to listen to her in her own words give her story, and her husband give their story,” he said. “And to know that I was able to be a part of helping out. She had a long road to recovery.”
Sweeney also took action against the doctor who had performed her first operation. She sued the surgeon responsible, who worked for a plastic surgery practice in her local area. According to court documents, the medical malpractice case was settled out of court.