At Last! Etta James Loses 200 Pounds and Finds a New Zest for Life

By Kinnon, Joy Bennett | Ebony, September 2003 | Go to article overview

At Last! Etta James Loses 200 Pounds and Finds a New Zest for Life


Kinnon, Joy Bennett, Ebony


WHEN the band strikes up blues diva Etta James signature song, "Come to Mama"--"mama" can swing with the music for the first time in years.

After struggling with a lifelong weight problem, James made what she terms a "lifesaving decision" and underwent gastric bypass surgery, called the Fobi Pouch, dropped 200 pounds, and feels better than she has in years.

For years the veteran singer had to be pushed onto stage in a wheelchair due to chronic knee problems, complicated by her ever-increasing weight. It prevented her from touring and even more important, it threatened her life.

"I thought I was going to die," recalls James, who currently weighs about 220 pounds. "I was constantly worried that I was going to have a heart attack. Dr. Fobi saved my life."

The Fobi pouch essentially reduced James' stomach, creating a pouch, which limits her food intake and gives her the sensation of being full much more quickly. Dr. Mai Fobi is one of the nation's top obesity surgeons and has helped other entertainers lose weight, including JoMarie Payton and Roseanne Barr. In fact, it was Barr who convinced James to seek Dr. Fobi's help when she sang on her show a few years ago.

"She pulled me aside in the dressing room before the show and said, 'Girl, you need to see Dr. Fobi.' Later, she came on stage and sang and danced the Hoochie Coochie with me. I saw what a difference losing the weight had done for her life. She looked good."

Prior to her surgery, James suffered from a number of weight-related illnesses, had difficulty walking and needed a motorized wheelchair to get to the stage during her concerts. The low point came a couple of years ago when she fell in a New York street and had trouble getting up. "People were laughing at me, and I laughed right along with them," she says. "But it hurt inside. I knew I had to do something about my weight problem."

James went to see Dr. Fobi in her wheelchair, and when she got there, she says she cried. "I thought I was going to have to give up the stage" she says. "My orthopedic surgeon had recommended knee-replacement surgery, but they wouldn't do it because of my weight. I weighed 400 pounds. …

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