Our Staff Makes the Difference ... But Our Patients Tell the Story
All That Jazz: Ralph Peterson Rediscovers his Rhythm after Weight Loss Success
By Linda Trainor, RN, BSN
As a full-time professor of percussion and ensembles at Berklee College of Music, and one of the top three drummers in the renaissance of jazz since the early 1980s, Ralph Peterson walks to the beat of a different drummer — and to a rhythm that’s entirely his own.
In fact, Ralph does not skip a beat when he talks about his career and journey to weight loss and wellness.
"I can distinctly recall why I previously carried an excess of 100 pounds," Ralph says. "I can attribute gaining weight to specific circumstances that greatly affected my life.”
Ralph further explains that years ago he experienced back and ankle injuries, leading to multiple orthopedic surgeries that in turn limited his ability to exercise. He was also battling alcohol and drug addiction.
Making that his first priority, and with the help of a 12-step program, Ralph is now completely alcohol- and drug-free — and has been for the past 17 years. Today, Ralph says he does not take his recovery for granted and keeps working his recovery program one day at a time.
The recovery from drugs and alcohol, however, led to another addiction — food.
"I literally switched my addiction to food, and gained a lot of weight during my recovery from drugs, alcohol and my major orthopedic surgeries," says Ralph. "I felt like I was eating myself to death."
Ralph began to consider weight loss surgery when he found himself tipping the scales at 330 pounds. He also credits his wife, Diane, for recognizing the signs of his dangerously high blood pressure.
"My primary care physician was adamant that I lose weight, since my blood pressure was extremely high and I already had been diagnosed with high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes," he explains. “Being placed on blood pressure medication forced me to seriously reconsider alternative interventions for long-term weight loss."
Since Ralph had tried many contemporary, non-medical weight loss interventions without lasting results, he decided to explore the option of having weight loss surgery.
"I researched other programs in the area, but Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) was the right fit for me," says Ralph. "I chose to have the sleeve gastrectomy, because I needed it. The resizing of my stomach made sense to me. Dr. [Robert] Andrews viewed me as someone who was serious about taking this step. He was a big part of my decision to come to BIDMC."
Dr. Andrews performed the operation in June of 2012 at BIDMC’s Weight Loss Surgery Center.
"Dr. Andrews and the staff provided encouragement from the get-go," Ralph says. "By having the surgery, I felt I could realistically achieve the goals I set for myself, which were to not only lose weight, but to improve my health.
"I felt that by having the size of my stomach reduced with the gastric sleeve, my capacity to eat would greatly be reduced, which I definitely needed for portion control, so that my workouts could catch up to my weight loss needs and goals," Ralph adds.
Ralph prepared for his surgery as suggested by the bariatric multidisciplinary team.
"I felt that 10 pounds to lose before weight loss surgery was well within my reach," he says, and did just that by practicing Taekwando, riding his exercise bike, and following a pre-operative diet as directed by the bariatric nutritionists.
Ralph weighed 318 pounds on the date of his surgery; within just a few weeks, he lost 30 pounds and found his hypertension and diabetes to be significantly better — so much so that his doctors took him off all medications.
Ten months later, Ralph has lost a total of 70 pounds … but who’s counting? Ralph says the biggest difference is that his quality of life has tremendously improved, both physically and emotionally.
Ralph now rides 20 miles on his stationary bike five days a week. He has also has earned a third-degree black belt in Taekwondo. While pleased with his exercise program, he likes to think of himself as a “work in progress.”
"I am in much better shape now," Ralph says. "I added strength training to my program, which builds muscle and tones the body. I have a belt that is literally on its second lap around my waist."
Among his other life changes since undergoing bariatric surgery, Ralph has also experienced liberation from reacting to stressful situations.
"Now, I don't let my circumstances or life events dictate my behaviors, because circumstances change all the time,” he says. "I am simply thrilled that I awaken every morning, 70 pounds lighter, drug and alcohol free, breathing better, walking better, and really feeling better.
"Happiness is a decision,” he adds. “It's that simple. You must make the choice, then follow the choice with action. And no matter the circumstances in life, you must hold on to that decision, no matter what."
So life is good for Ralph, and that’s where the music swells — it's easy to see that jazz plays a key role in his happiness. Ralph has built a career as a bandleader and sideman in jazz over the past 30 years. He travels and tours around the world to locales including Europe, Japan and Korea. Ralph has also made more than 100 recordings; the latest two through his own music label, Onyx Productions.
Ralph has spent 28 years as an educator at the college level as well, teaching at Berklee College of Music.
"I feel so blessed to earn a living at what I love doing," he says.
With all that jazz in Ralph's life, he still makes himself available to the community, giving his time as a Taekwondo instructor to children in the Dorchester area.
"I am so grateful at the opportunities that life has presented to me, it is only right that I give back to the community," says Ralph. "However, I don't think I would have been able to keep this current schedule if I was carrying around all that extra weight.”
Even before having weight loss surgery, Ralph was always known for his energetic rhythm.
"But now that I've lost 70 pounds,” he says, “I feel like I am captain to an endless supply of energy."
All photos courtesy of Ralph Peterson
Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
Posted April 2013