Sgt. 1st Class Bob Engstrom is greeted by his his wife, Stacy, and other family during a homecoming reunion at Fort Hood, on Jan. 4. (David Morris / Killeen Daily Herald / The Associat)
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Sgt. 1st Class Engstrom kisses his wife. (David Morris / Killeen Daily Herald / The Associat)
KILLEEN, Texas When Sgt. 1st Class Bob Engstrom came back from Iraq on Jan. 3, he returned to half of the woman he left 15 months ago.
His wife, Stacy, lost 147 pounds in the last year, going from a high of 307 to 160. She went from squeezing into a pair of size-28 jeans and XXXXL T-shirt to a comfortable size-8 pair and medium T-shirt.
Stacy underwent gastric bypass surgery last Jan. 15. When Bob came home from Iraq for his rest and recuperation leave in June, she had already lost 100 pounds. Stacy, who is 5 feet, 7 inches tall, has gone on to lose 47 more pounds since he left.
Her goal is 150, but she isn't stressing about that last three.
"What's a couple pounds when you've lost that much?" she joked.
Bob has seen photos of his wife after the additional 47-pound loss, but Stacy says they don't do her justice.
Though Stacy has undergone a tremendous transformation, she predicted what Bob would say: "You're beautiful. You've always been beautiful, but you're even more beautiful."
The moment finally came Jan. 3 when Bob and about 350 other soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Air Cavalry Brigade and 2nd Brigade Combat Team returned to Fort Hood. Bob, a tank mechanic, said his wife's transformation was "outstanding."
"That was better than ‘beautiful,'" Stacy said with a smile. "That's my baby."
The Engstroms met in 2005 on a "fluke," Stacy said. Bob was "computer illiterate" and some other soldiers showed him how to use a Yahoo! chatroom. He and Stacy chatted. It turned into four months of talking on the phone. That turned into a 10-day trip for her to Fort Hood from South Carolina.
Bob and Stacy were in love. But being a single, working mom of two boys who always had to think ahead, she needed to know how they were going to handle the more than 1,000 miles between them.
She is a neonatal intensive care nurse, and accepted a 13-week assignment in Dallas. When the three months were over, she didn't want to leave Texas.
Her sons, Kyle and Dalton, loved Bob, a tank mechanic. Kyle, who was always picky about his mom's dates, approved. Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center had a job opening and before Stacy knew it, she, Kyle and Dalton were Texans.
Bob has stepped in and become the "most awesome father," Stacy said. Kyle, who is now 18, and Dalton, 9, call him "Pops." Kyle has matured a great deal and tells his mom that he wants to wait to start a family because he wants to be able to give to his what Bob gave them. Stacy losing so much weight and Bob getting along so well with the boys got the Engstroms to thinking. Their next goal is to have a child.
"He's 41 and I'm 38," Stacy wrote in an e-mail. "Call us crazy, but crazier things have happened!"
Stacy's decision to get the life-changing surgery wasn't spurred by Bob he already loved her or anyone's approval. She was scared for her health. Her blood pressure and cholesterol were up. She was pre-diabetic. She felt like she was 80 years old.
"A walking stroke" was how she described herself, and she didn't want to be a burden on her family later in life.
Bob knew she was getting the surgery he went with her to a clinic in Austin several days before he left for Iraq. Stacy had done extensive research and she knew about the procedure. It was Bob who asked the questions. He calls her a "free spirit," she said, so he knew that once she made up her mind, she was going to do it.
What followed was a series of psychiatric, nutritional, physical and exercise evaluations. The surgery isn't a "magic fix," she said. The procedure is a tool, and someone has to be committed to changing their lifestyle. They have to be ready for the right reasons, she added.
Stacy tried every diet pill and weight-loss program she could find, she said. Before the surgery, she put on the prom dress she wore in high school, when she weighed 135 pounds. It fit on her thigh.
Losing the first 100 pounds was a real "wow moment," Stacy said. Initially, she lost 1 to 2 pounds a day. That slowed to between a half-pound and a pound in the last few months. The boys have joined her in adapting to a healthier lifestyle. Kyle has lost 70 pounds through healthier eating and exercise.
Getting the surgery didn't get rid of Stacy's body dismorphia, or poor body image, though. She looks in the mirror and still sees a 300-pound person. The weight loss left her with excess skin, something she said makes her look like a "frumpy old woman." She knows that no matter how much she changes, she may not be satisfied.
But she has noticed the different treatment she gets now that she is not obese. Before, people ignored her and wouldn't hold a door open. Society has gotten friendlier now that she is thinner, she said. Even patients at the hospital treat her better and it made her wonder, "I'm the same nurse as 150 pounds ago, but now I'm a better nurse?"
She also had to think about what to wear for Bob's homecoming. Shopping is much more tempting now, she said, with many more options to choose from.
She decided on a fitted pink sweater and matching jacket and a pair of jeans. It was a cold day, and she had a coat waiting in the family's Ford Explorer. She decided to just deal with the cold.
"I don't want to be cute and then cover it up with the coat!" she said.