SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – More than two in five adults are obese in the United States, and one in 11 has severe obesity. In South Dakota, around 35% of adults are considered obese. One tool that’s helping some people lose weight is bariatric surgery.

These days, Ron Highrock from Winner is happy and enjoying life, even while sitting in a hospital. But four years ago, it was a different story for him.

“I was miserable, I lived day-to-day on ibuprofen and Aleve and just hurting every day as I woke up. It hurt to move, just a miserable life experience,” Highrock said.

After a knee injury, his doctor asked him a question that changed his life.

“Have you thought about bariatric surgery?” Highrock said.

That’s when Highrock was referred here to the Sanford Surgical Tower.

“When COVID started, back in 2020, I had to be accountable to them. I downloaded an app called MyFitnessPal. They put me on a certain calorie diet, 1800 calories, and I kept track of all my food I was eating,” Highrock said. “Then I would message them, they would adjust accordingly because they weren’t taking in patients. Then the call came in January 2021 and my surgery was February 22nd of 2021.”

Now Highrock is down nearly 300 pounds from where he began at 546 pounds: from an 8x shirt to an extra large.

“This is memories of a hurt past, you know. No self-esteem, no confidence. The pain of everyday life, you know what I mean. Whereas this now is, you know, confidence out the window, you know what I mean,” Highrock said.

Nurse practioner Kristin Turec has enjoyed taking this journey with Highrock.

“I always say I get to see miracles every day. People get off medications, they get their lives back, they get to play with kids, grandkids, get to do dream jobs. It’s very rewarding that way,” Turec said.

Bariatric surgery isn’t for everyone, though.

“Patients whose body mass index, BMI is how we refer to that, between 30 to 35 with a health issue like high blood pressure, sleep apnea, high cholesterol qualify for surgery,” Turec said. “If your BMI is greater than 35, you actually don’t need to usually have that comorbidity, depending on your insurance.”

Turec says those guidelines have changed recently.

“It used to be 35 with comorbidity and BMI of greater than 40 but that’s changed as the obesity epidemic continues to change and we see all these chronic health conditions becoming more prevalent,” Turec said.

But Highrock knows it takes more than just the surgery to make a change.

“You have to be ready to do this. I call this my journey of me. Or for somebody else, I call it your journey of you,” Highrock said. “You have to want to do this. You have to be prepared because it’s a lot of mental, emotional, it’s your whole being, preparing your whole being to do this journey.”

Highrock is now looking toward the future with a new lease on life.

“I have skin surgery coming up in January so that’s exciting for me. This is going to be the exclamation point on this journey. You know, it’s going to leave a scar but that scar will always be there as the exclamation point of this journey of me,” Highrock said.

Highrock is now hoping to follow his dreams of becoming a nurse — something he had given up on for a while. He also is thinking about becoming a motivational speaker and writing a book.