North Apollo woman hopes to inspire others through her weight loss

The display on the scale read “379.”

“I cried when I saw that number,” said Debbie Gerardi of North Apollo, who was in the hospital for back surgery in February of 2018. “I thought to myself, ‘How did I get here?’ I was so big that the nurses had trouble finding a vein in my arm for an IV, so they had to put it in my neck.”

That situation became a life-changing moment for Gerardi.

It motivated her to get moving, she said.

“When I saw that number (on the scale), my husband said, ‘You look sick. Are you worried about the operation?’ I was, but I was more worried about the number,” she said.

She turned that worry into lost pounds — 173 of them.

Making a change

After making a few calls, her primary care physician recommended Allegheny Health Network’s Bariatric and Metabolic Institute. Gerardi said AHN is planning on creating a campaign about her journey.

“AHN Bariatrics are so supportive,” she said. “They educate you about your options. It has not been an easy road, but it’s been worth it. I hope people reading my story will be inspired to take control of their health and make time for themselves. It is OK to ask for help with weight loss, and it is never too late to change your life.”

Gerardi had gastric bypass surgery on Aug. 15, 2018.

The operation involves reducing the size of her stomach, dividing the small intestine and attaching the bottom end of the small intestine to the newly created small stomach pouch, according to AHN.

“I was about to turn 40, and this was my present to me,” said Gerardi, the mother of a son, Anthony, 14, and a daughter, Sophia, 11.

The weight loss surgery, along with regular exercise and a diet of more lean protein and limited carbohydrates, allows Gerardi to do things she never could before. She walks 2 miles a day and does the elliptical for 45 minutes three times a week.

North Apollo woman hopes to inspire others through her weight loss

Courtesy of Debbie Gerardi

Debbie Gerardi (left) of North Apollo with her son Anthony, 14, daughter Sophia, 11, and husband Chris.


Role model

Gerardi is a role model and example of how not to succumb to being overweight, said Dr. George Eid, system chair for Allegheny Health Network’s Bariatric and Metabolic Institute, who performed her operation.

Eid said there are misconceptions about being overweight. The number of obese people has doubled in the past two years, he said. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2019, 33.2 % of adults in Pennsylvania were self-reporting obesity.

With medical advancements, the operation is safer. It requires small incisions. Many patients go home the following day. There can be side effects, but being overweight can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, he said.

Pageant participation

Losing the weight helped her gain confidence — so much so, that when friends suggested she compete in a pageant, she went for it. Her most recent competition was in June in Georgia at a pageant once called Ms. Reigning America. It now is called National United International Elite.

She said she loves the pageant messages of equality, empowerment and empathy.

In her pageant interview, she said she would choose empathy first because “society is too busy arguing about our differences and not listening to each other.”

She won both Ms. Supermodel and Ms. Top Model categories for ages 25 and older out of 17 contestants. Her prize package included $5,000 and a cruise to the Bahamas.

She said she especially enjoys the volunteering side that goes along with the mission of winning a pageant. She is involved with organizations such as Lasagna Love, The Knead Community Café, Play It Forward Pittsburgh and Read Across America.

She said the most important thing is to stay positive.

“I try to drown out the negativity,” she said. “It takes willpower. It’s a lifelong commitment. I can give up ice cream, and I am OK with that. I look back at all those old photos, and I realize every day is a gift.”

One of her most memorable moments of the weight loss journey was when her son hugged her.

“My arms can reach around you when I hug you,” she said her son told her. “That put it all into perspective. Yes, there were tears, reminding me the importance of health and my family and never wanting to see the number 379 pounds on the scale ever again.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 724-853-5062, [email protected] or via Twitter .