Ian’s story: “The doctor shook his head and said, How are you still alive?”

Ian Fredericksen is standing beside his mountain bike on the foreshores of Lake Ontario in Toronto. He should be enjoying the scenery… but it’s hard to take in the view when you’re doubled over trying to catch your breath.

Ian is 170kg – overweight and unhealthy. That’s when the epiphany hits him. He realises he needs to make a drastic change, before it is too late.

“About three-quarters of the way through the bike ride, I didn’t know if I was actually going to make it,” says Ian, a Zero Harm Superintendent with Downer’s Asset Services business.

“I felt breathless, I felt sick and I thought to myself, ‘There’s got to be changes – and they’ve got to be made now’.

“When I returned to Australia, I went to my GP. He told me to hop on the scales. I did, and he just shook his head and said, ‘How are you still alive?’

“I also had high blood pressure, I had sleep apnoea and I was borderline diabetic. I don’t know that I would’ve been around much longer if I left things the way they were.

“The doctor referred me straight to a Brisbane surgeon to have bariatric surgery.”

Ian knew he needed help to lose the weight. He had tried previously to lose it by himself and, after initial success, he encountered setbacks and complications.

On 19 November, Downer celebrated International Men’s Day, which raises awareness about men’s health and wellbeing. Ian shared his health journey to warn others of how easy it is to fall into dangerous cycles – and how hard it is to reverse them.

Ian learned the hard way… but fortunately he took action before it was too late. He had bariatric surgery two years ago, and has since lost 70kg – and continues to lose weight
at a steady, sustainable rate.

The surgery helped him lose weight, and potentially saved his life. But surgery alone would have been useless without extreme lifestyle changes.

“People say, ‘You took the easy way out’. But it is no easy ride, let me tell you,” he says.

“I worked really hard with a dietitian and a psychologist. I had the completely wrong idea about food. I had to learn again. Food had become my crutch. It was an addiction. I used it to cope and if ever I was stressed I would turn to it. My mental health wasn’t good and I found coping mechanisms to get through each day. Some people turn to drugs, some people turn to alcohol. I turned to food. It’s a big thing to actually recognise that and understand that.

“Surgery was only half the solution. This surgery can be reversed and you’re right back to where you started if you don’t make the correct choices after the process.”

Ian has made those correct choices. He’s adopted healthy habits – and kicked the bad ones.

“Everyone loses weight at different speeds after the surgery,” he says. “For me, I lost a lot of weight really quickly, to the point where I started to look very different. It was quite interesting – people I’d worked with for years would walk straight past me without recognising me.

“But the support that I got from my work colleagues before, during and after the process has been fantastic. I’ve been able to lean on them for assistance and help when I needed it. I feel really honoured to be able to work with this team of people. They’re fantastic.”

Today, life is very different for Ian.

“I discovered I could do stuff I couldn’t do previously,” he says. “Things like doing up your shoes. Or getting out of bed – now I just get up and go, there’s no thinking about it, or thinking about how my feet hurt, or knees hurt.

“I feel like I have been given a second chance at life and I’m very grateful for that.

“The choices are mine to make now. You can’t go back, you can’t change the past. But you can change the future and you just keep striving to live the best life you can live. I feel awesome.”