After surgery, she’s half the woman she used to be

For Brandi Jefferis, intracranial hypertension could have left her blind. But weight-loss surgery gave her back her vision and her life.

Brandi Jefferis is half the woman she used to be.

The 45-year-old eastern Indiana resident once weighed 312 pounds. After a serious health scare, she underwent gastric bypass surgery at IU Health North Hospital and lost a whopping 187 pounds.

Under doctor’s orders, she has since put 10 pounds back on her 5-foot 10-inch frame and weighs 135.

For her, it’s a whole new life. But the crisis that led up to it was frightening.

“I woke up one morning and was having a hard time seeing,” she said. She went to her eye doctor, figuring she needed glasses. But her doctor quickly referred her to a neurologist.

The next day she was having a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as a spinal tap – a medical procedure in which a needle is inserted into the spinal canal, most commonly to collect cerebrospinal fluid for diagnostic testing.

“My spinal fluid had built up to the point where it was crushing my optic nerves and squeezing my brain, causing blindness,” she said. “If I hadn’t gone, I could have gone blind permanently.”

Jefferis was diagnosed with pseudotumor cerebri (false brain tumor), also known as intracranial hypertension. It mimics the signs of a brain tumor but is benign.

She got started on medications to reduce her fluid retention, then was faced with a choice. She could get gastric bypass surgery to reduce her hypertension or have a shunt surgically implanted in the brain to drain fluid.

For her, bariatric surgery was the lesser of two evils. She met with weight-loss surgeon Dr. Ambar Banerjee and committed to working the program, which required her to lose a certain amount of weight in the six months preceding surgery.

After the November 2017 operation, she said she lost the weight quite rapidly and never looked back.

“I get up every day and I can see. I get out more. I ride a motorcycle, I have a houseboat. I’m an outdoors person and I can’t imagine waking up and not being able to see.”

Jefferis, who said Dr. Banerjee called her his “prodigy,” is proud of her 20 percent body fat and the fact that she can once again fit into clothes she wore in high school before she began gaining weight. She credits her husband, Darrell Thomas, her daughter and others for supporting her during her weight-loss journey. In fact, she said, it’s been life-changing for her entire family.

“Don’t be afraid,” she tells anyone who might want to pursue weight-loss surgery. “Everybody’s nervous about change, but sometimes it’s good. Instead of being home in pain and miserable, live life, spend time with your family, see the world. Live.”

– By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist