It’s resolution time. Get off the couch! Usually the New Year is a time of reflection. More often than not we focus on what we could have done better, and what we are going to do about it in the coming year. We resolve to make our lives better.
Resolutions are goals for our immediate future. We use them as guideposts to move us along as we progress throughout the year. As we go along, we are happy when we reach a goal, and perhaps indifferent when we do not.
But 2014 woke us up. The tragic shootings in Ferguson, New York and Cleveland were a stark reminder that life is precious and can be snatched away at any moment. For most, there are no second chances. When they come along, we must maximize them to the fullest.
Duane Taylor believes in second chances. Just over a year ago on New Year’s Eve, Taylor went to a doctor’s office and was told he would be able to lighten his burden, and no longer needed the wound vac medical apparatus that had been keeping him alive. It was the best New Year’s present he could have imagined, and from that point forward he resolved to live and to help others live.
Taylor is well known in the community, mostly for Duane Taylor Entertainment. He told me he has close to 8,000 connections online. Since moving to Denver from Atlanta to manage the call center for the security company ADT, he has been living the dream, sometimes by choice, other times having to adapt. Two years after his relocation, the company downsized and he lost his job, and it was then that he started Duane Taylor Entertainment, a successful promotions company. He subsequently started a business as a corporate recruiter.
“Who is Duane Taylor? From a professional standpoint, I am a corporate employment recruiter by day, a professional event planner by night and a dynamic motivational speaker by nature,” he says.
He became aware of his God-given gifts and talents 20 years ago, but it took a life-changing event to urge him into full commitment to use them. Despite his success, his lifestyle was not perfect as he struggled with obesity even as a child. After deciding to have elective bariatric surgery and changing his nutrition and mindset, Taylor has shed 193 pounds in the past 15 months. Growing up in Philadelphia as an only child, he was the fat kid who was teased and picked on, as well as the focal point of his parents’ love.
“I think that contributed to my obesity as well,” says Taylor. His father would pick him up at the bus stop and they would go to the corner drugstore for what Taylor referred to as one junk, a candy bar or potato chips. “And of course, me being an only child and being the focal point of my parents’ love, sometimes that one junk became two junks, because I would ask for two. And he would say, alright son, you’ve made good grades today – go ahead and get two things.”
Taylor’s football playing weight in high school was 255 pounds. In his freshman year at the University of Florida, he put on another 100 pounds. He was unfortunately placed in Hume Hall, the dorm that housed the only all-you-can-eat cafeteria. With his meal plan, he took full advantage. His weight began to take its toll. One roommate moved out after one semester because of Taylor’s excessive snoring, a consequence of his obesity.
After graduating from college with a bachelor’s in communications, Taylor lived in Florida for several years before moving to Atlanta where he met his wife Zena. “I thought I would be in Atlanta all my life. But apparently that wasn’t God’s plan,” he says.
“I have struggled with obesity all my life,” says Taylor. “I have done what I call the Oprah and Luther Vandross syndrome, where you have seen them gain weight…lose weight…gain weight…lose weight…gain weight… lose weight. “ Taylor has been a living statistic. Data from the Health, United States, 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics report shows that 38 percent of African American men are obese, with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or higher. The rate for African American women is even higher at 57 percent. Obesity has been classified as a preventable disease, but according to the personalhealthinsurance.com website it is exempt as a pre-existing condition under the Affordable Care Act. Economic status and education have some but little impact. Obesity rates among African Americans who have college degrees and higher incomes still hover around 25 percent. It’s fortunate to be able to address it with bariatric surgery, but Taylor is quick to comment that this is by no means a silver bullet.
We seem to be enamored with quick fixes. Taylor had developed many of the ailments associated with obesity – shortness of breath, knee pain, and hypertension, and he struggled to get out of his car because of his weight. It took breaking the driver seat in his crossover vehicle to get him to consider doing something different. It was common to consume 30 chicken wings in a sitting while watching a football game and he drank a 2-liter bottle of diet soda a day. By the time he started considering bariatric surgery, he tipped the scale at nearly 400 pounds. That was about three years ago.
Taylor had the bariatric sleeve surgery in 2013. “But what I didn’t anticipate was that nine days after my surgery, I was sitting on that couch and I became sick,” he says. “Now it is yet to be determined whether or not my subsequent illness was the result of my weight loss surgery or not. I ended up in the hospital for two months.” Those two months were the most challenging days of his life. Two additional surgeries were performed. In the eight weeks spent in the hospital between September and November, he was in intensive care for three of them. Taylor recalls little about the whole experience, but pictures his wife took show he was hooked up to every type of medical machine imaginable. He is emotional and often tearful when he talks about it. “But she wouldn’t share those with me until she knew that I was ready to see them, and I appreciate her for that,” he says. After being discharged from SkyRidge Hospital, he checked into a specialty hospital where after an initial assessment, doctors determined that he was too sick to be there and he was sent to another acute care hospital. There the prognosis was for additional surgeries.
But Taylor’s wife and mother knew he would not be up for further time under the knife. “I had already had three surgeries within a week. I had my weight loss surgery on Sept. 10, another surgery around the 20, two surgeries, so if I had been taken under that knife again, I may not have lived. So I had what is called internal wound therapy. I had a hole in my stomach the size of a football and as deep as…probably three inches deep,” he says. The therapy worked, and Taylor was discharged on Nov. 14, but relegated to carrying the eight-pound wound vac until he got the word on New Year’s Eve that he no longer needed it. “The only time I could disconnect it was when I took a shower. I would disconnect it take a shower and then reconnect it and it was a mess. But I thank God for the wound vac, because it helped me to not have to have another surgery,” he tearfully says.
Few of us have such a transformational experience that slaps us in the face. Taylor is determined to turn this dark period into a lighting path for others faced with obesity. He elected to have the bariatric procedure, but he knows even with this physical fix, there is the danger of reverting to old habits. “I try to let people know that bariatric surgery is a choice. And that it is not just the solution. Your change has to come really from your mental adjustment. Biblically, we call it the renewing of the mind. You have to have a renewed mind and make the decision that you are going to think differently, be differently, and eat differently. One of the things I plan to do is write a book, and one of the chapters is going to be ‘All I do is think about food.’
The biggest challenge has been to shed the old Duane. “It is kind of ironic because when I was morbidly obese, all I would do was think about food. And that meant where was I going to go? What was I going to eat?” He met his goal of shedding at least 140 pounds with the surgery. But when he looked in the mirror, he still saw the old Duane. He had lived so long as an obese man, that he had difficulty seeing himself as slim. Could he embrace this new person?
Following his surgeries, Taylor was fed intravenously and took nothing through his mouth for weeks. When he was encouraged to start eating, he found it difficult to wrap his mind around eating food again. The old Duane loomed in the back of his mind. But his mental fortitude got him through the pain and anguish. “Babe, I’m tired,” he told his wife one evening over the phone. “We need you,” she tearfully replied. He decided that night in his hospital bed he was going to fight to live his life to the fullest.
Today, Taylor exercises in the gym working out six days a week. He fervently works with a dietician and is focused on constantly improving his nutrition. He is coming into his own, comfortable in his own skin as an “agent of encouragement.”
“I would say that my escalated level of success with this bariatric surgery is because of my mindset change and my rigorous exercise, which is one thing that I will tell people all over the world as I go out and help people change their mindset. If you have the surgery, that is a choice. But even if you don’t have the surgery, you’ve got to implement exercise into your daily lifestyle. You‘ve got to change the way you look at food. You can’t let food control you.”
A year ago, Taylor wore size 56 pants. Today, he wears a size 34. But there is more to life than looking good in your clothes. People who knew the old 390-pound Duane look at the new and improved 197-pound Duane sometimes say, “You’re getting too skinny.” He looks them dead in the eye and tells them “Is there any such thing as too healthy? When we are healthy, we feel good and have energy. If we truly want to live our dreams, we are in a better position to accomplish our goals when we are healthy.
“You have to make a decision and really be serious about it. You can’t go at it half-heartedly. And that has permeated every other aspects of my life. In my business, if I can’t put on a grand, epic and signature event, I am not going to bother. No more mediocre. I wasn’t saved and given a second chance at life to do stuff on a mediocre level.”
As is the case with many, Taylor’s new outlook is borne of adversity; nevertheless it is prudent to borrow a page from his playbook. He reached a plateau after his surgery and was somewhat dismayed. We reach plateaus in all areas of our lives, so focused on results, we think we have faltered, ignoring the lessons in the process. Taylor has developed an aversion to the past tense in relation to his fitness and health. For him being healthy is an ongoing process. And the process must always be progressing. He emphasizes the ‘ing’ as in being and doing.
“It’s not time to replay the first part of my life over again and play it the same way as the first part. It’s time for the next level. A much higher level, a much more fulfilling level on all levels physically, emotionally, financially, spiritually. It’s time to go to the next level. And that is one thing I ask when I try to encourage people – friends and strangers – what are you doing to take yourself to the next level?”
Taylor’s next level is telling his story from Morbid to Model, his new personal brand. Knowing that people are more receptive to those who have been there and done that, he plans on a documentary, a book, more press, social media and perhaps talk show appearances in modeling for others struggling with obesity. He recently received more than 800 “Likes” on Facebook when posting about his experience and he currently gives weekly lectures to bariatric patients.
Editor’s note: For more information on Duane Taylor, visit https://www.facebook.com/duane.taylor.712.