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Max Jean-Gilles Hoping Lap-Band Surgery Saves Career, Life

Aug 19, 2010 – 12:05 AM
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Anthony L. Gargano

Anthony L. Gargano %BloggerTitle%

Max Jean-GillesThe most miserable portion of training camp officially ended today for the Philadelphia Eagles with a morning session under a canopy of gray clouds that dulled the uncomfortable memory of the last three weeks. Searing heat and thick still air that choked down like paste marked most of their practice days in the Lehigh Valley -- a cluster of rugged old Pennsylvania towns built on rolling hills in between the Blue Mountain to the north and the South Mountain to the south and the perfect place for a football team to summer. Remote and sweaty.

Most of the players left weathered. Too weary to celebrate, driving with purpose to their loved ones and really to their beloved own beds after so many nights on those hungry springless ones in the dorms. Andy Reid had made good on his promise to work them like it was 1999 (his first season as head coach).

In this quest for November and December resolve, so many dropped, and yet a former 400-pounder by the name of Max Jean-Gilles survived.

Truthfully, Max Jean-Gilles didn't know if he could after undergoing a drastic weight-loss procedure. He can say it now that this first part of training camp is mercifully complete and he did more than just survive after losing more than fifty pounds in less than three months. He saved his football career and could very well be the team's starting left guard.

On the way home, he might as well have sang.

Hey y'all, prepare yourself
For the Lap-band man


"I'm just playing football, man," he said. "I'm not worried about the weight. I got that monkey off my back."


Let's rewind the story of the football player whose biggest enemy was girth. The weight has always been something of a subplot for him. He was the big kid who later in life people called "big guy" who never did lose the baby fat. It didn't much matter in the profession that chose him way back when he was in high school in Miami. By college, he was hefty but a real athlete. He was freakishly quick and that worked well at the University of Georgia, where he opened up those mammoth holes for the run game. In fact, they called him The Black Hole in Athens because potential tacklers would just disappear around him.

But all of the success that he enjoyed in college ended in the NFL. While he didn't miss a game due to injury at Georgia, he could barely get on the field with the Eagles. The injuries, big and small, that he suffered over the past three years seemed weight-related, especially after he suffered an ankle injury in 2008.

He was getting too big -- even for an offensive lineman.

Four hundred pounds was his max.

Once a promising talent, Jean-Gilles was beginning to fall out of the Eagles' plans for good. That's when his wife Maggie suggested that he try a drastic procedure to save his career.

And his life.

"I did it for now and in the future," said Jean-Gilles, who is 26. "I know I had to lose the weight to stay on the field. And I sure didn't want to be 400 pounds -- or more -- after football and then have heart problems and all kinds of health problems. I was close to 400 pounds -- like 398 -- and I thought there was no way I could live like this. I was breathing heavy."

So when Jean-Gilles had the surgery back in April, his goal was to lose to lose 50 pounds by training camp. And he did. Jean-Gilles says he weighs 345 pounds now and would like to lose "maybe another six pounds."

Jets coach Rex Ryan also had a successful lap-band surgery, but this was the first-ever known procedure by a player.

"It's was all my wife's idea actually," he said. "I thank her for that. She talked about it to (the team). Something that would give me quick results and something that could get me back on the field ASAP. It was all her idea.

"We told the Eagles the week before I did it. Just to tell them I was going to do it. They were cool with it. They were concerned about the training camp aspect but they told me to check about the timetable with the doctor. And it worked out well."

Eagles trainer Rick Burkholder has watched over Jean-Gilles diligently since the moment he reported to Lehigh University. This is his first experience with a player who received lap-band surgery.

The effect of training camp on the body was a worry because of the size of his stomach and whether he could handle enough fluid intake. He endured one scary episode. He was carted off the field during one practice because he couldn't cool down.

Max Jean-Gilles

"I was sweating real bad," he said. "I kept throwing up. I couldn't hold anything in. I can't really pump in liquids like I want to because my stomach is a little shrunk. So when I drink a little quicker it comes back up. I have to learn how to deal with that."

Burkholder is one of the league's top trainers employing state of the art tactics. In an effort to protect his players from the heat, he has them swallow mini thermometers -- about the size of a Motrin tablet -- and monitors their core temperature.

"That was the only difficulty I had all camp," Jean-Gilles said. "And I wasn't alone out there over-heated. For the most part, I feel great. I'm bouncing around everywhere I go. Running on the field. I'm the first one out there."

Jean-Gilles talks like a man who shed a burden. But psychologists warn that there is a mental component that comes after the surgery. Missing food. Then notion of eating because of hunger and eating because of comfort.

Food has always been Jean-Gilles' weakness.

"Fried chicken," he says to be specific. "I loved fried chicken. I had to cut that out quick. I could go through a whole bucket back in the day. But right now two pieces of chicken and I'm done. I mean I can't even eat the same anymore. I get full so quickly. I get mad sometimes. I'm so hungry and then all I take is a couple bites and I'm done. I'm like, 'Come on!'

"Then I think about how hard it was to get the weight off."

The weight just melts off him now and the meals, like he said, are even quicker.

"I stay away from a lot of carbs because my body can't break those down," he said. "I'm a fan of a lot of meats -- and really soups. I love soups. Even though it's hot out now my favorite is soup. And my favorite soup is tomato soup. So I still eat it when it's hot out."

Looking young and innocent, he smiles. His face is noticeably thinner.

"Not the fat kid anymore," he says.

He's the Lap-band man.
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