Lake Life


Mabank 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 grinned.
“Being diagnosed with high blood pressure was the first straw,” Neighbors said.
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 pounds.”
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 said.
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 school.
“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 recalled.
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 salad.
“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 said.
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 forward to.
“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 that forever.
“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 problems.”
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 die.”
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 are.
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 locations.
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 hour.
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 neighborhood roads.
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 brain injury.
• 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 break off.
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 equipment.
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
This website if full of helpful information not only about bike and pedestrian safety, but about many safety related issues affecting our community.




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