Since undergoing gastric bypass surgery in March 2004, Burns has shed 280-
plus pounds. A year later Burns is a new man -- literally.
"My life has changed tremendously, and I have a whole new outlook and perspective on things," said Burns, 55.
Burns is doing things he couldn't do two years ago when he was at the highest weight of his life -- 587 pounds. In the past year, his pinkie ring has moved a finger over, and he can cross his legs. He can now sit behind the steering wheel of a car as opposed to his van, and he can sit on a porch swing.
But most importantly, Burns is living.
Prior to his surgery, Burns had been depressed, kept a low-profile and was about to give up on his life, he said.
Now Burns and his wife take strolls around town. He's been building things like the porch swing and making leather gun holsters. Although he was a little uncoordinated, he even pitched horseshoes at a family reunion last fall. "God has given me another chance at life," Burns said.
Burns has struggled with weight all of his life and weighs less now -- about 300 pounds -- than he did when he was a senior in high school when he weighed 350 pounds.
The procedure Burns had done is called Roux-en Y gastric bypass, or RUNY, and was performed by bariatric surgeon Phillip Hornbostel, who is located in Sedalia.
With a RUNY, a portion of the stomach is closed off, leaving a small "pouch" to hold food and restrict the amount of food that can be eaten at one time. The small intestine is cut and then reattached to the new stomach pouch, leaving a shortened path for food to travel through. Because part of the small intestine is bypassed, less food is absorbed.
Right after the surgery, Burns average weight loss was about 35 pounds per month and since it has tapered off to about 6 or 7 pounds per month.
"It's ironic because not long after (I lost weight) my wife and I prepared for our funerals. When I was expecting my life to come to an end, I couldn't even think about that. Now it doesn't bother me," Burns said.
Doctors say the surgery should extend Burns' life by 20 years.
The surgery also decreased Burns' medicine intake by 90 percent.
"This is not a fix-all and there's things you've got to watch out for," Burns is quick to point out.
Burns must avoid grazing, or snacking on food, and he can't eat sweets or he'll get what is called "dumping syndrome." This happens carbohydrates, sugar or anything foreign gets into the lower intestine and can cause nausea, vomiting, sweats or a high heart rate
"For my birthday, I ate two bites of cake and two bites of ice cream and was sick for 45 minutes," Burns said.
Burns must also take a vitamin B-12 and calcium with Vitamin D supplement and multi-vitamin supplements for the rest of his life.
"If you don't take your vitamins, it could eventually cause brain damage," Burns pointed out.
But these are measures Burns is willing to take.
"There are ups and downs in the whole situation, but the pluses far outweigh the minuses," Burns said.
"Exercise was the toughest transition," Burns admitted.
For Burns, exercise isn't heading to the gym, it's doing more practical things like working outside and walking around town.
Even his weekly trips to Wal-Mart have been a form of exercise, he said. "And I've been tempted to get a cart to ride around in, but instead I grab a shopping cart and lean on it as I walk around," Burns said.
Because Burns lost so much weight, his center of gravity changed, and he had to relearn some things, he said. He has back and knee problems traced back to his previous weight.
Burns continues to lose weight and hopes to drop another 50 or 60 pounds. When that happens, he will probably have to get a tummy tuck and have surgery to remove all of his excess skin.
Burns' credits his wife, Linda, for much of his success.
"The key is being supportive," said Linda Burns, who added she's very pleased with her husband's results.
The licensed minister is pursuing a criminal justice degree online and is looking into working in prison ministries at the Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston.
"Because I've had such a tremendous change in my life, I feel like I really need to get involved as much as I can," Burns said.
And Burns said he wants to encourage anyone with health problems, especially obesity, to never give up on life.
Burns said: "God's given me a second chance -- and I wouldn't want to mess it up."