Bundaberg registered nurse Drew Weiss achieved his dream of becoming a firefighter after losing a massive 130kg through life-changing surgery.
After a journey, that wasn’t easy, Drew is now ready to share the ups and downs of his life that once seemed like it had spiralled out of control.
Born in Bundaberg in the 70s, Drew wasn’t like all the other typical kids. At the age of three he started to limp and his hips became sore.
He was diagnosed with the rare childhood disease that affects hips, called Perthes Disease.
At the time the only treatment was to be placed in a frame in the shape of a capital A to separate his legs – Drew was in this frame until he was eight.
“Pretty much, I couldn’t walk until I was eight,” Drew said.
Despite this he went on to be an active teenager who played teams sports, including AFL for West Bundaberg Bulldogs and rugby league with Natives, along with cricket for Across the Waves and other social games.
After finishing Year 10 Drew moved to Townsville to try and find employment and some years later he met his wife Sarah.
“I pretty much left Bundaberg and became a slob,” Drew said openly.
“Two decades of bad eating habits and unhealthy lifestyle crept on.”
After marrying Sarah they both became registered nurses and pursued careers in the health industry.
“We went to James Cook University together and completed a Bachelor of Nursing Science,” Drew said.
Drew said both of their weights continued to climb and he became withdrawn from society and was ashamed in his nursing role as he weighed 200kg.
“At that size, I would stand at a patient’s bedside and educate them about the importance of diet and exercise; it was clear I was not practicing what I preached,” he said.
“I became a recluse – I didn’t leave my house unless I had to work.
“I couldn’t mow the lawn and could only just walk to the letterbox before I was out of breath.”
At his heaviest Drew said he weighed 230kg.
“If I was invited out I would first go and check out the location of the place and even see if it was suitable for a person my size,” he said.
“If there were plastic chairs, I’d just say I couldn’t make it – that’s how much my weight controlled my life.”
In 2017 Drew returned to the Bundaberg Region to be closer to his family after his sister Colleen passed away from cancer the year before.
That's when he and Sarah made the decision that they needed to do something with their lives to become healthy, knowing they may not have more than a decade left if they continued to put on weight.
They decide to undergo what they say was not just life changing, but life-saving gastric sleeve surgery, together.
“When I decided to have surgery I was 230kg, my surgeon said I had to get down to 210kg,” Drew said.
After a month on a strict diet Drew was ready to go under the knife for keyhole surgery he now says not only saved his life but made it 100 per cent better.
“I had always yo-yo dieted in the past, but nothing worked,” he said.
After the weight-loss surgery, life wasn’t easy for the registered nurse, Drew said, as it took months before he could eat solid food and he had to change his approach to eating everything.
“It’s a misconception the surgery is a quick-fix – it’s just a tool, I had to change my mindset on everything I did,” Drew said.
During the first month Drew said he was only able to take in fluids, a huge change from the fast food and takeaway he was used to.
“After the first month I could take everything I could suck through a straw and after two months I was able to move on to introducing solids,” he said.
“It’s trial and error, if I eat too much I will vomit.”
With Sarah by his side Drew said they’ve been able to bounce ideas off each other and the support is invaluable.
“Sometimes when we go out to dinner in Bundaberg it’s a struggle,” Drew laughed.
“People think we are tight because we ask to share a meal or order two children’s meals.
“But we just can’t eat a full meal each any more.”
Now two years later the pair are still losing weight, but the rate of weight loss had slowed down compared to the early days after surgery.
Drew said it was important to not let old habits creep back in; this was particularly important to him after he recently became a granddad.
Hitting the gym five days a week for two-and-a-half-hour sessions, including running 5km every second day, he said exercise had become the new habit and he enjoys work as a community registered nurse.
Drew says he realised the weight-loss surgery had opened his eyes to the world of possibilities and earlier this month he underwent the auxiliary recruit training and education program with QFES to become an auxiliary firefighter; this never would have been possible if he hadn't lost 130kg through life-changing surgery.
“I went away on the ARTEP course and it took the other recruits a few days to build up the courage to ask why I wasn’t eating the full meal,” Drew said.
“I just never thought being a firefighter would be a possibility for me, it started out as rural fire fighter and my interest grew.
“And now, I am never home, I’m always out and about doing something with the fireys or friends.”