firefighter adjusts to being ‘normal’-sized
Neighbors drops 180 pounds in the year
after gastric bypass surgery
By Kerry Yancey
Monitor Staff Reports
MABANK–Long known as one of the biggest men around, Mabank firefighter
and business owner Jason Neighbors said he knew it was time to do
something to get his weight down.
“I was getting so big I wasn’t healthy,” he recalled. “My main reason
for doing surgery is sitting over there on the floor.”
Hearing that, his daughter Kylie (who turns 6 in July) looked up and
“Being diagnosed with high blood pressure was the first straw,”
In February, 2005, Neighbors was honored by the Mabank Volunteer Fire
Department as the 2004 “Firefighter of the Year.”
“At that time, I might have been around 450 or 455,” he said. May 8,
2005, Neighbors went in to have gastric bypass surgery.
“I went on a fast the week before surgery, and on the day of surgery, I
weighed 446 pounds,” he recalled. “Right now, I’m at 270.”
A little over a year after his gastric bypass, the 6-5 Neighbors has
already gone past his original “target weight” of 300 pounds.
“My new target is 250 pounds,” he said. “That would mean I’ve lost 200
In gastric bypass surgery, the stomach is divided into a small upper
pouch and a larger lower stomach, and the upper portion of the small
intestine, which absorbs sugars and fats directly into the bloodstream,
is largely bypassed.
Because it involves major surgery, a gastric bypass is not recommended
for someone who just needs to lose 20 pounds or so – it’s for
individuals who need to lose at least 100 pounds or more to avoid major
health issues, such as heart disease and diabetes.
A similar, but more reversible and less invasive surgery is gastric
banding, in which a plastic band is placed around the stomach and
tightened, so the stomach is filled with far less food.
The band can be tightened or loosened by a doctor in an office visit,
but a gastric bypass can’t be modified without another major surgery.
Neighbors said a relative of his had the gastric banding surgery, but
pointed out she was able to continue to eat the wrong foods, and had not
been able to lose much weight.
“Unless you have high willpower, that (banding) won’t help you,” he
Neighbors said poor eating habits and not enough exercise were the main
reasons for his weight problems, although he has always been larger than
all his friends and family.
“I would drive a truck all day and eat a big supper, then go straight to
bed, which is the worst thing you can do,” he said. “I was working 12 to
14 hours a day and snacking at convenience stores. I would drink 10 or
12 20-ounce Dr Peppers a day – that was my biggest weakness.”
Neighbors, who attended Mabank schools until his senior year, graduating
from Scurry-Rosser High School, said he was always the biggest kid in
“I was 6-2 in the fourth grade,” he said. “In Little League football, I
was always a foot and a half taller than everybody else. My coach would
have to carry a copy of my birth certificate to show the other coaches.”
In high school, he was listed on the football team’s roster at anywhere
from 330 to 375, “depending on who we were playing that week,” Neighbors
Over the years, Neighbors tried “every kind of diet” and exercise,
walking as much as six miles a day at the track, but was unable to lose
weight. He said he would build up muscle mass – muscle weighs more than
fat – and then get discouraged because he wasn’t losing weight.
As a volunteer firefighter since high school, Neighbors never had a
problem carrying his share of the load.
“I carried my 446 pounds well,” he said. “I could work with anybody, but
it was tearing my body up, especially my knees and ankles.”
What has been his biggest adjustment?
“When you go out to an all-you-can-eat restaurant, you know you’re
wasting money,” he said.
Saltgrass Steakhouse has always been a favorite stop, and Neighbors
recalled he once would have no problem polishing off the restaurant’s
signature 24-ounce porterhouse steak, along with a baked potato and
“Now, I do a six- or eight-ounce ribeye,” he said. “You eat that first –
you always eat your protein first – and then if you’re still not full,
you can eat a little bit of your potato and a bite or two of salad.”
That’s a major adjustment, he said, learning how to order food at
restaurants and not wasting a lot of food and money.
“The biggest thing to remember is to chew, chew, chew your food,” he
The surgery left a stomach pocket about the size of a nickel, and that
means anything going into it has to be no bigger than a dime, or it will
get “hung up” and come right back up – obviously, not something to look
“It was six months after surgery before I could eat steak, and my jaws
were hurting from having to chew it up so much,” he said. “Steak wasn’t
worth the effort.”
Neighbors admitted he became very depressed during the first 90 days
after surgery, when it seemed like he would never be able to eat again.
“I love to cook and I love to cook out,” he said. Annual fire department
fish fries were a favorite event, and it seemed at the time he had lost
“I thought I had lost a lot of my life. If it wasn’t for my wife (Mackensi),
I wouldn’t have been able to hold it together,” Neighbors said.
“You tell everybody,” he added, “If they don’t have someone at home
who’s strong enough to help you through that time, you’re going to have
As a firefighter, Neighbors said he had never had problems dealing with
death in all its gruesome forms, but living after the gastric bypass
made him question life itself.
“You sit there and doubt yourself, asking ‘why did I do this?’” he said.
“I would 100 percent do it again. If you have more than 100 pounds to
lose, it will change your life.
“It’s not a cure-all,” he added. “I know people who’ve had surgery to
After dropping 180 pounds, Neighbors now can shop somewhere besides a
Big & Tall store, and that’s a major change.
“Anything that’s over X-large, you have to figure an extra $2 per X,” he
said. “I wore a size 52 x 34 jeans, and a 5X long shirt. Now, I’m
wearing 38 x 36 jeans and a X-large or XX-large shirt (depending on the
style of the shirt).”
In addition, Neighbors is far more physically active than he was,
working long hours in his home shop.
“I told Granny the other day that I couldn’t strap her on my back and
carry her (weight) to town, but I used to carry it all the time,” he
said. “I don’t know how I did it.”
Special to The Monitor
ATHENS–June 5 marked the beginning of a community wide effort to feed
children in our community who have limited resources.
Children from all over will be coming to Kiwanis and Baggett parks to
eat meals provided by the East Texas Food Bank and will be served by
volunteers from many local churches.
I know as the program kicks off and continues throughout the summer that
there will be many occasions to see how big the hearts of our citizens
I am excited just thinking about the people from so many different
political, denominational, and social backgrounds who have come together
to make the Summer Food Service Program a reality.
At the core of the whole service project has been a common theme: “It’s
not about us, it’s about the kids.”
Keeping these warm and fuzzy thoughts in mind, it is also important to
think about the safety of the children coming to the parks.
Many of them will be walking or riding their bikes to both park
Anything you can do to keep the roads safe for these youngsters will be
a tremendous help in our efforts to keep them safe during a busy lunch
Promotion and education about bike and pedestrian safety in general can
do a lot to create a safer environment for our kiddos. Some of the
following facts and statistics are alarming, but I think they can do a
lot to motivate folks to be on the lookout.
According to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign in 2004, more than 60
percent of childhood bicycle-related fatalities occur on small
The typical bike crash occurs within a single mile of a child’s home.
Our community is full of small neighborhoods where children ride bikes,
many times without helmets, which I will address later in the article.
Nationally in 2002, nearly 288,900 children ages 14 and under were
treated in emergency rooms for bicycle-related injuries.
Observing these bike-safety tips for parents and guardians will prove
helpful for your families this summer:
• A bicycle is a vehicle. Bicyclists must obey traffic laws and rules
such as riding onteh right side of the road, obeying traffic signs, etc.
A child needs to be prepared for riding in the street by teaching
him/her riding skills and rules of the road.
• Get the right size bicycle for a child. A child should be able to sit
on the seat of the bicycle and touch the ground with both feet.
• Make sure children wear a helmet when riding. Bicycle helmets have
been shown to reduce the risk of head injury by as much as 85 percent.
If a parent or caregiver rides, set a good example and wear a helmet,
too. Even a moderate blow to an unprotected head can cause a permanent
• Don’t allow a child to ride a bike after dusk.
• Replace any bike helmet after someone crashes in it. Impact crushes
some of the foam.
The helmet is then less protective, although the damage might not be
visible. Also be sure to replace the buckle of a helmet if any pieces
An interesting and important thing to note about helmets is that they
should not be worn on playgrounds.
Strangulations from bicycle helmets have been reported on playgrounds,
and children should be advised to remove helmets before using playground
Here are more bike safety rules.
• Never ride out into a street without stopping first.
• Obey stop signs.
• Check behind before swerving, turning or changing lanes.
• Never follow another rider without applying the above rules.
As you take care to remember these simple but extremely important bike
safety rules and tips this summer, you will be increasing the safety of
the children not only participating in the Summer Food Service Program,
but also for every child in our community that rides their bikes to
parks or different locations during the summer.
For more information about safety in our community, please visit http://txtownsafety.tamu.edu.
This website if full of helpful information not only about bike and
pedestrian safety, but about many safety related issues affecting our