I Had a Gastric Sleeve at 17

Years of feeling isolated led Ellie to make a life-changing decision
  • Ellie Baxter, 20, from Brisbane, Qld, struggled with health conditions since she was a kid, and her weight ballooned.
  • As a teen, she tipped the scales at 142 kilos but was finally diagnosed with hypermobility and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome or EDS.
  • Ellie found a specialist when she was 17 who agreed to perform gastric sleeve surgery, due to the severity of her conditions, and now she has transformed her life.

Here Ellie tells her story in her own words.

Standing on the scales at the paediatrician’s office, I looked down at the double digits.

80 kilos, I gulped.

Just 10 years old, I was well over the average weight for my age group, and had been diagnosed with a fatty liver.

Two years earlier, I began suffering gastrointestinal issues and had loose joints, which often resulted in dislocations.

It meant I was unable to exercise which caused my weight to quickly skyrocket.

So I was referred to a nutritionist, who encouraged me to eat healthier food and smaller portions.

My mum Paula, then 41, tried to help by serving my dad, Jay, 45, brother Riley, 12, and me healthy dinners of meat and veg, instead of the pastas we were used to, but I never felt satisfied.

I’d sneak to the kitchen when everyone was asleep, wolfing down my favourite savoury snacks.

Even recovering from hip surgery at age 10 – due to a fractured femur – wasn’t enough to deter me from bingeing.

With Dad at work and Mum doing the school run, I’d heave myself off the couch with my crutches, and raid the cupboards.

From salty chips to savoury bickies, food had become my escape from the physical pain I was experiencing.

Before Mum arrived home, I’d stuff empty packets behind the sofa.

‘Whose is this?’ she’d ask when later cleaning the house.

‘Not me!’ I’d fib.

My unhealthy habits continued and, by the age of 13, I’d ballooned to around 100 kilos.

When I started high school, any shred of confidence I had left dwindled.

Ellie Baxter kid
Ellie Baxter in 2014 (Credit: Supplied.)

‘At 15, I tried every fad diet.’

I’d had so much time off due to further hip surgeries, that I made no real connections. And when I was well enough to attend school, my classmates weren’t very inclusive.

My mental health improved when I changed schools at 14. I immersed myself in the performing arts and made new friends.

But seeing them dressed up on weekends in the latest fashion trends, I felt ashamed of my size 20 Kmart clothes.

So I ordered plus-size clothes online to fit in. I also began experimenting with make-up, watching YouTube tutorials while recovering from another surgery.

Painting on pink eyeshadow, I felt like I was someone else.

And, helping friends and family with their make-up for events, my new talent made me feel worthy.

Still, there were times when I’d be overcome with sadness while comparing myself to slimmer girls on social media.

At 15, I tried every fad diet around, but nothing seemed to stick.

That same year, I finally received a diagnosis for my hypermobile joints.

‘You have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome,’ the doctor said, explaining it was a genetic condition that caused issues with the joints and skin.

Soon after, I was also diagnosed with functional neurological disorder (FND), which meant my brain had trouble sending and receiving information to the rest of my body.

Ellie Baxter Before Weightloss
Ellie before her weightloss (Credit: Supplied.)

‘I tipped the scales at 142 kilos.’

After suffering multiple seizures because of it, I spent months in hospital learning to walk again.

It was a low point for me, but I was glad to at least have some answers.

But being inactive for so long meant I’d piled on even more weight, tipping the scales at 142 kilos.

Bursting into tears one day, I felt defeated.

‘I’ve heard of gastric sleeve surgery,’ Mum said, offering to pay for the op that would remove 85 per cent of my stomach, restricting the amount of food I could eat.

By then, I was willing to do anything.

Due to my age, 17, it was tricky to find a surgeon willing to operate.

I realised getting a gastric sleeve as a teenager was controversial, but I wanted to be as healthy as I could be. And with my health issues, exercise just wasn’t an option.

If I dieted without exercise, it could take years to reach a healthy weight safely. And I worried about the toll my size was taking on my body.

Thankfully, I found a specialist who agreed to do the procedure, due to the severity of my conditions.

To prepare, I followed a liquid-only diet for two weeks beforehand.

The starvation was horrible but my family encouraged me to keep going.

‘You have our support,’ Dad said.

Coming to after the surgery in June, I was in immense pain.

Back home, my diet of liquids continued, before moving on to purees, then soft foods. And the weight continued to fall off.

By March 2021, I’d reached my goal weight of 80 kilos – shedding 62 kilos in total.

Ellie Baxter weightloss
Ellie after her surgery (Credit: Supplied.)

I’ve gone from a size 24 to a much healthier 14, and now enjoy the freedom to be able to walk into any shop for clothes.

I also underwent a tummy tuck surgery in November last year, removing three kilos of excess skin.

After spending so much time in hospitals, I’m now studying to become a nurse.

Though weight-loss surgery is not the answer for everyone, I’m positive it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.

Without my weight holding me back, I finally feel comfortable in my own skin.

You can’t put a price on happiness.

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