EASO Patient Council: November 2015

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Vicki, please tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m Vicki Mooney and I’m the EASO patient council representative from Ireland.

I’m a 38 year old divorced mother of 3 beautiful children. I am very proud to own and run Irelands only Plus-Size Modelling Agency, promoting body confidence and a healthier lifestyle and body image to all women. I am also a dynamic motivational and inspirational speaker-which is where my real passion lies. As a regular panellist on Ireland’s mid-day television programme which discusses day-to-day events and topics within Ireland, I have lots of experience in the media.

Having published my first book ‘Curve-a-licious’ in 2012, I’m currently writing my second book, which focuses primarily on life as a larger lady with mental health issues and obesity in today’s society.

My Dip in Psychology and Therapeutic Counselling, has provided an inner strength for the work I do. It has also given me a more in-depth understanding and awareness of my own mental health and obesity struggle.

I’m originally from Dublin-the capitol city of Ireland, with a population of 1.1 million out of a country-wide population of 4.8 million. However I reside now in a quaint town named ‘Kilcullen’ in Co. Kildare with my children and pets. I lived rurally for 15 years in the Kildare countryside which was quite beautiful but socially and physically had little to offer someone of my temperament and sociability. Moving to Kilcullen this year has led to a remarkable improvement in my overall health.

Please share a few of your favourite things with us, including activities, hobbies, interests:

I’m a lover of reading, and particularly enjoy 18th century and early 19th century novels. I thoroughly enjoy mediating and yoga. I love to swim as I find it’s so incredibly therapeutic and adore all genres of music from classical to Italian soft rock, to Irish traditional.

My nerdy side is a lover of astronomy and meteorology.

My interests and passion are about empowering people and changing negative ways of thinking which affect so many people from the older generation down to the youth of today.

I’m a firm believer in making a difference in the lives of people through sharing my own experiences and providing openness on taboo subjects such as obesity and mental health.

What has your experience of obesity been like, Vicki?

I have always been overweight; in fact as I went through puberty I was the same age in years as I was in stones. I.e. 15 years old – 15 stone (95kgs/210lbs) 20 years old – 20 stone (126kg/280lbs) and by time I reached the age of 28 I was 28 stone in weight (180kg/395ibs).

My obesity issue lay with the emotional overeating I did as a child which became a negative learned behaviour as I grew into an adult. When life was hard growing up, I comfort-ate to fill the void I felt inside and also to distract me from the bad experience.

This soon became a daily habit, and I found myself comfort eating sweet foods, which I had psychologically convinced myself that I felt better after eating. This was not actually the case.

At this time, I gained 1lb on average per month of my life.

As a young woman with a massive obesity issue I was frequently bullied and ridiculed. The side effect of this was a vicious circle in which I then ate to feel comfort… which in turn made me gain weight and the circle continued.

Living with obesity was and still is challenging. I had no quality of life outside my home which I shared with the man who was then my husband, and our 2 young children. I was ashamed of my physical appearance and felt I had such an incredible amount of weight to lose that I could not possibly know where to begin.

I joined various weight loss programmes such as Weight Watchers, but after a bit of success I would regain what I had lost. The reason for this was quite simple. I hadn’t dealt with or learned how to cope with my emotional eating and the psychology behind my weight.

Pregnancy with my 2 children was quite frankly horrendous. I suffered with pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction amongst other complications during labour, which resulted in one emergency caesarean section.

As a very overweight woman, I had no self-esteem nor did I have a positive way of thinking. I was clinically depressed and felt there was no way to treat my weight problem, for which various antidepressants were of no help, due in part to the fact that they caused weight gain…

In 2004 at 27 years old I attended my GP who wrote to the weight management clinic in Dublin. 18 months later, following monthly visits to the multi-disciplinary team there, I had a gastric by-pass surgery (Roux-en-Y).

Within 14 months I had halved my weight from 28 stone (180kg/395lbs) to 14 stone (90kg/200lbs). I then became pregnant with my daughter and had a perfect pregnancy.

However, as a bypass patient I never once realised that the operation wouldn’t ‘fix me’. The bypass wasn’t the silver bullet I had hoped. I didn’t realise an entire lifestyle change was required, not just for me but for my entire family. I didn’t realise how much the bypass and dramatic change in losing 14 stone in weight would do to me psychologically as a young woman.

Unfortunately aftercare in Ireland’s weight management system doesn’t have the back up a patient requires. The multi-disciplinary team simply do not have enough support and funding from our government to provide appropriate aftercare and ongoing support.

Due to not losing enough weight, I didn’t qualify for corrective loose skin surgery so I have been left ‘half finished’ in a way – which is quite demoralising as a now 38 year old single woman.

However I have only regained 4 stone (25kg/56lbs) over a 10 year period which is certainly spells success in my eyes.

Living with obesity is a daily struggle and something I have a constant awareness of and am constantly reminded of – from before my feet touch the floor in the morning, until I close my eyes last thing at night.

Please share your reflection on the ECO2015 and hopes for the EOS2016:

The ECO2015 in Prague was a tremendous success for the Patient Council in many ways.

It isn’t often that the patient voice is heard in scientific settings, and more importantly, acknowledged by such a dynamic group of professionals with the same goal. Having this platform available and to be able to speak with so many healthcare professionals has been a major opportunity for the Patient Council. The way the Patient Council was received at the Congress was nothing short of marvellous.

Moving forward, my hope for the EOS2016 in Sweden next June, is that we as a European Patient Council, have a larger stage and voice through which we can open doors to working more closely with all involved stakeholders.

How do you currently advocate for patients, Vickie, and how would you hope to advocate for patients in the future?

In September 2015, I travelled to Brussels to participate on a panel of the meeting session ‘policies to prevent obesity-related chronic diseases’ during the EPHA Annual Conference 2015, which was hosted by Medtronic and supported by the International Diabetes Federation, European Region.

Feedback I received suggested that my participation contributed to a lively and high-quality discussion and really provoked thought on the complex issues of obesity. It was wonderful to hear that the EPHA greatly look forward to an opportunity for future cooperation with Patient Council speakers.

In addition, I attended an EASO Roundtable on Obesity in Brussels on October 13th which was chaired and moderated by former MEP, UK Minister for Health, and British MP, John Bowis.

At the event, almost 30 stakeholders took part in a comprehensive and thoughtful discussion. Participants included medical professionals, advocacy organisation directors, health care providers, European politicians, and leading European organisations.

I presented to the group on the patient perspective, making the point that treatment is a step in a larger lifestyle change and can not be seen as just a one shot fix. It is clear that there is an opportunity for Patient Council members to help healthcare professionals and policymakers better understand what patients are going through by sharing their unique perspective and experiences. I also raised awareness within the group of the importance of changing the messaging from ‘losing overweight’ to ‘becoming healthy’, which will help raise awareness of both comorbidities and essential lifestyle adaptations necessary to support patients in moving toward health.

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