Weight Loss Surgery: Melvin Burnett's Journey
Inspirations. Motivations. Change.
“I didn’t want to die young, like my father had, to make my son an orphan and my wife a widow.”
Melvin Burnett’s father was a fit, athletic, winning Golden Gloves boxer in North Carolina in the 1940s. That was an era when tournament wins took heart and discipline. The work came with pride and respect, not money.
By the time Melvin was born, however, extreme weight and crippling diabetes was his father’s reality—and the only one Melvin knew of him first-hand.
In his own youth, Melvin was also a fit athlete and high school football player. But as he aged, his weight, too, became an issue that affected his overall health. Stressful jobs in computer programming and insurance also took a toll. In his early 40s and weighing 348 pounds, he had mini-strokes that required a full year of recovery.
“My blood sugars were crazy, and my weight was out of control,” he says.
A stroke specialist said he was lucky that he didn’t lose nerve and muscle control of his entire right side.
Melvin’s father had died of a heart attack before Melvin reached age 20. He decided to make sure that would not be the fate for his son, too.
“I didn’t want to die, to make my son an orphan and my wife a widow,” he says. “I became determined not to allow disease to cripple me like it had crippled my father. I felt God telling me to make a change.”
So in 2008, Melvin, then 43 and living in Greensboro with his son, and wife, Avis, decided to work harder for better health. He made changes to diet, got back to the gym and switched up his profession—discovering a love of teaching and eventually earning a master’s of arts degree in teaching from Lenoir-Rhyne University.
Over time, he lost 30 lbs. Ten years passed.
“But my weight was a yo-yo, up and down,” he says. “By 2018, I’d had breathing problems for 15 years, plus diabetes. My knee gave me problems, due to my weight and to a high school football injury. My doctors encouraged me to consider bariatric surgery.”
Finally, he was ready. He looked to Cone Health Bariatric Weight Loss Program for support.
“Oh my goodness,” he says. “Everyone at Cone Health was awesome, from the surgeon to the staff and the support groups. If not for them, I’m not sure what my options would have been.”
Melvin had bariatric surgery on December 19, 2019. Less than a year later, he got to where he should have been all along, he says.
“I’m down to 214. That’s even below my high school football playing weight,” and he says.
That’s a long way from his heaviest of 348, where he needed a shipping scale to weigh himself. He’s now down to a size 36-38 pant, from size 52.
“No suit fits anymore,” he says with a laugh. “I’m amazed at the progress.”
With gyms closed due to COVID-19, he found a way to keep up his progress: he walks outdoors on paths through the parks and other routes in his neighborhood—up to six miles at a time, five or six days a week.
Melvin has made this journey public, sharing the reason behind his obvious physical transformation with students and teachers at Broadview Middle School, where he teaches eighth grade math, and to the congregation at Greater St. Matthews Fellowship Ministries in High Point, where he’s served as assistant pastor for over 13 years.
“If we can encourage someone with our journey, that’s what life is all about,” he says. “Beyond religious beliefs, and no matter what people know about you, we can all be encouraging in some way.”
He hopes his story of better health offers the encouragement that his family and the team at Cone Health continue to offer him. He’s now off all diabetes and blood pressure medicines, and physical activity remains a key part of his success.
“I’ve started jogging again after a 30-year break, and recently completed a five-mile run on the elliptical in the gym—all with no more knee pain,” he says, delighted.
“And I can even do an ‘old man’ sprint,” he says, again with a laugh.