August 10, 2017

The moment that inspired nurse to take control of her health

A life-changing moment pushed registered nurse Tanya Baca to lose 140 pounds and live a healthier lifestyle.

Registered nurse Tanya Baca was treating a diabetic member at Kaiser Permanente Colorado Skyline Medical Offices when she experienced a life-changing moment.

“I glanced at the mirror on the back of the door and I saw myself, and I was disappointed,” she recalls. “Here I was nearing 30 years old, weighing 289 pounds, and I was teaching a patient about healthy living. What kind of an example was I?”

Tanya knew at that moment that she needed to “make some changes for myself, my family and my patients.”  Now, three years later, she could write a book on lifestyle change — and long-distance running too. Having lost more than 140 pounds, she just completed her second half-marathon race (13.1 miles) at the Kaiser Permanente Colfax Marathon.

Surgery just one tool

Tanya says she has struggled with weight her entire life. She’s tried every diet around, and even a few gimmicks, before starting a plan with Kaiser Permanente Colorado’s Weight Management team three years ago.

After consultation, she decided surgery for a gastric sleeve was the right move. The sleeve would help Tanya lose up to 80 pounds, but she said she wanted to lose more, much more.

“I thought there was no way I was going through a surgery and dragging my family and co-worker, fellow RN Nicole Falconi, along with me, to get down only 80 pounds and still be obese. No way," says Tanya. "I knew that in addition to this tool, a true lifestyle change would need to be made. So, that meant exercise.

“The gastric sleeve is only a tool for weight loss, and the weight management team here with Kaiser Permanente made that clear. Calories in, calories out — that's the golden rule.

“At my height and weight (in 2014), when I would try to run, it felt like my feet would shatter beneath me, and breathing while running, not an option, no lung capacity," says Tanya. "So I started off slow.

"I would jog a block and then walk two or three, and as a new day came, I increased the amount of jogging and decreased the amount of walking, until I was actually at a fast, steady run. The weight flew off my body. I lost 142 pounds within the first year!”

‘Running saved my life’

Tanya emphasized that her surgery was the start of her new life and lifestyle, but only a start. “Running has saved my life. I never would have lost so much weight, even with the surgery, if I didn't take to running," she says.

"I run every day on my lunch break. I had never been a true runner … now I cannot live without running. It's a true joy of mine. Plus, have you seen all the great clothing and running accessories out there?”

woman holding medal she won in running event

She now has a taste for competitive running, and has participated in the Kaiser Permanente Colfax Marathon the last three years. Tanya ran in the 2015 event, but stepped up her game in 2016, tackling the half-marathon.

“I entered the race to see if I could push myself to do the full 13.1 miles without stopping, and to see how long it would take me to complete the track," she says. "The race is hard, it took a lot of strength, endurance, prayer, and a really good playlist. The encouragement from other runners and from spectators helped me get to the finish line."

‘Comfortable and confident’

But Tanya is insistent that this phenomenal journey to better health was not a singular effort on her part.  This surgery and weight loss has changed every aspect in my life," she says. "I feel comfortable and confident when I educate my patients now because I know I am walking the talk, not talking the talk.

"None of this could have happened without the support of my husband, Jerry, and my children, Madison and Ezekiel, my father, Ray, and of course the amazing care team I have here at Kaiser Permanente. … Also, the amazing co-workers I had at Skyline Primary Care, who helped me through the mental preparation before and after surgery in 2014. It truly takes a village!”

Living healthy ... one green chili at a time

"Prior to the surgery, I was slowly dying,” she says. “All that weight was not good for my heart, plus my mental health was down the drain. I had very low self-worth.

"Now, I'm living life and thriving. My family is happy because I'm healthy and happy. I can go play outside with my kids, and my weight alone no longer exceeds the weight limit on our trampoline.

“I have great self-worth and my A1C is in normal range, plus my heart is not at risk anymore. My husband and I are doing better than ever. And I continue to eat healthy. My favorite meal is a one-third cup of egg white omelet, with lean turkey, one-third cup of Mexican style cheese and New Mexico Hatch green chili!”