ATLANTA (FOX 5 Atlanta) - Shara Conway of Stockbridge, Georgia, made a decision 5 years ago that changed her life. She was 29, and had been struggling with her weight for a decade.
"My high weight was actually 341 pounds," Conway remembers.
So, the U.S. Department of Defense Schools reading specialist choose to undergo weight loss procedure known as a vertical sleeve gastrectomy. And along the way, she dramatically changed her diet, and starting exercising.
"It was just like a one day at a time thing," Conway says. "I really didn't think about how much I would lose,"
The weight came off quickly. Within about a year, Conway was down 120 pounds. But she lost so much, so fast, she was left with rolls of excess skin around her waist, which her surgeon warned her could happen.
"It's very, very disheartening at times," Conway says. "Because you're working hard, you're exercising, you're eating right, all of these wonderful things. And, then there is this skin, this thing that won't go away."
Dr. Dzifa Kpodzo, an Atlanta plastic surgeon and Associate Professor of Medicine at Morehouse School of Medicine, says excess skin is a common problem in people who've lost a lot of weight quickly.
"Most patients feel much better about themselves overall," Dr. Kpodzo says. "But I do think people are pretty surprised about the amount of sagging skin that can happen. So, I find sometimes people feel good inside clothes, but are very, very self-conscious outside of clothes."
Conway hid her excess skin under loose clothing.But, she says, the sweltering Georgia summers were tough.
"It's not just the extra skin, but it's also constantly having rashes, and wounds, and moistness under there," Conway says.
There was another challenge.
"Besides the fact she lost a lot of weight, she still has very large breasts that are causing symptoms of neck, upper back, shoulder strain, headaches," Dr. Kpodzo.
Because of the breast-related pain back pain and the skin irritation around her abdomen, Conway's insurance company agreed cover a breast reduction and skin removal surgery.
She paid extra for a tummy tuck.Conway lost an additional 40 pounds in the months leading up to her procedures, bringing her total weight loss to 164 pounds.
"Usually we don't do this procedure until you're at least 1-year-old from her surgery," Dr. Kpodzo. "Because you want to have lost the weight and are stable."
Conway's before and after pictures are striking.After 15 years of highs and lows, one surgery, and then another, Shara Conway finally feels comfortable in her skin
."I just feel very grateful that everything worked out the way it was supposed to," she says. "It took a little time, but I'm definitely grateful and I appreciate it because of the journey."