Sunday Scroll – Laura Sands-Dadd – Extreme Tummy Tuck

Sunday Scroll Feature

For 30-year-old mum Laura, Fleur de Lys surgery at St Hugh’s has changed her life – in more ways than one. In this brutally honest account, Laura talks to journalist Lucy Wood about how it was before, and how taking the step to surgery was one of the best things she’s ever done.

The sun is streaming through the window as I dial the number. The spot I’m in is comfortable, a notepad balancing on my knee and pen in hand, yet I’m surrounded by a myriad of devices plugged in and on charge, wires spilling everywhere, twisting annoyingly around my ankles, tradition clashing with modernity. The phone rings a few times before a chirpy voice answers – “Hello!” – an exclamation mark, not a question, and the debut of an ever-present smile in her voice.

This is Laura Sands-Dadd, thirty years old, a mum of two, a graduate, a care worker, a loving partner and daughter, a best friend. She’s content and happy. She’s also experienced 1enough trauma to get to this point to last a lifetime.

She’s a few months on from having undergone Fleur de Lys surgery – in other words, a tummy tuck reserved for those who’ve undergone significant weight loss and, as a result, are left with excess skin. Extreme weight gain and loss can cause the skin to lose its elasticity, and so Fleur de Lys is more complex, requiring two incisions – one vertically and one horizontally.

For people like Laura, a standard abdominoplasty, to give it its correct name, just isn’t enough.

But this isn’t really why we are here. Yes, the procedure is a huge deal, and yes, it’s amazing what impact it’s had on her life, but Laura is so much more than the recipient of a – let’s face it – eyes-wide, mouth-open type of operation… there’s so much more to her journey than that.

“I have always been big,” she says, straight off. There’s no messing about. “I dread to think how many calories I used to eat a day, I really do. I wouldn’t want to know!”

That’s the thing with Laura. Within minutes, she’s talking with searing honesty, and it’s all because she wants others to know what living with excess weight is really like, and the subsequent weight loss, too. “It’s not pretty, losing an extreme amount of weight” she laughs. “No one tells you that part!”

But more on painful sores and tucking rolls of skin into knickers later. It’s best to start at the beginning.

Laura Tummy Tuck

“I had quite a difficult pregnancy,” she says, underplaying it somewhat. For difficult, read anxiety-inducing growth scans and pre-eclampsia, and high-dose injections into her stomach every day to replace the warfarin.

“It was nothing to do with pregnancy, it was just that my body was too big and had too much going on. I have pictures from when I was pregnant with lines of bruises on my stomach where I had to inject.”

It didn’t stop there. When her baby girl, Harper, was born, Laura lost two litres of blood. Harper contracted an infection and became so poorly she had to stay in hospital for eight days. This was in 2014.

“It was just awful – a case of ‘what have I done?’” The stress of the memory is apparent in Laura’s voice. “It’s definitely not like it is in the movies!

“We got home eventually, and I got post-natal depression, so I went back to my food, my comfort, and I got bigger and bigger.

“I’d get through the day by knowing there’d be a takeaway and a big bar of chocolate at the end of it. I’d get through this awful time, with me looking after this baby, with food – my coping mechanism. It was a reward – and I still do it now, even.”

This lasted for about a year, and Laura began feeling better. She and her partner decided to try for another child.

“I so wanted the good experience of pregnancy and childbirth, so I was ready to go through it again,” she explains. “Well, the second was worse than the first – so much worse. I think a lot of it was down to me being so big, but I could never feel her move. I never knew from one day to the next if she was alive. It was horrendous.

“I was constantly at the hospital, being checked and monitored. They were on the ball with it all the time, but it was just backwards and forwards. And then we found out she was a breech baby.

“Because my size meant I was at risk of clots and infection, and I’d had a c-section, they wanted me to give birth naturally. I had to sign a document to say I’d have medical researchers present at the birth.

“We tried and tried, but she wouldn’t come out. I was in labour for about 12 hours, and she wasn’t budging. By now, my consultant – who’d said I was not to have a c-section under any circumstances – had gone off duty.

“They said I needed an emergency one, and we were arguing over what was best to do. Anyway, I had the c-section and thankfully everything seemed fine. My consultant came back and said it shouldn’t have happened.

“With that, within 12 hours, I was on the high dependency unit with a raging infection. My pulse rate was through the roof, even though all I was doing was resting in bed. My baby was taken away.

“I remember it like it was yesterday and all I kept thinking was, ‘is this ever going to end, will I ever come out of this?’ I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”

Poppy was born in January 2016, and Laura was at her heaviest then – 21 stone and 8lb, for the record.

“They said it was my weight, and it was hard to swallow; that it was my fault. It wasn’t that I hadn’t tried to lose weight or do anything about it. My will was there. I just hadn’t managed it.”

She got better and went home, but Poppy was a poorly baby. She had a milk allergy and silent reflux, and problems sleeping.

“And I still blamed myself,” says Laura, who was unable to breast feed. “Maybe if I was healthier, she would have been. I had constant guilt. Considering all I ever wanted to be was a mother, and that nice experience, I was devastated.

“I couldn’t even have my own mum there, because she was poorly.

“I recovered from it, but it got to a bad point. I was a massive comfort eater. Some people drink, some take drugs – my addiction was food. I got into this rut and didn’t want to leave the house.”

It was then that the turning point came. Knowing things weren’t good, she went to her GP.

“My doctor said, ‘if you don’t do something about your weight, you won’t reach the age of 30 – you will die.’

“It was pretty plain. I needed to do something, or I wouldn’t see my children grow up.”

Laura was just 25 years old. The prognosis was shocking, but not surprising.

“He wanted to refer me for weight loss surgery – a gastric band or bypass – and I said no. I said no immediately.

“I’d never looked into it before and knew of someone who’d reacted badly, so it wasn’t the way to go for me.

“I was determined to lose the weight myself, and something just clicked in my head.

“I started off eating better and exercising, and I suddenly found that to deal with my stress and anxiety, or any low mood, I turned to exercise rather than food.

“I fell in love with exercising and literally the weight kept coming off. I learned my own body, if you like – what was good and what was bad for me. I changed everything about what I was doing.

“Before I was the type who wouldn’t even walk to the car, yet I began walking to the gym and back. I just fell in love with it, and it was just my time – I’m a big believer in that. There was no going back.

“I lost about three stone, and then the relationship with my children’s father broke down.”

Here, Laura pauses and sighs heavily. I can hear sounds of the outdoors in the background – birds singing, the rush of a breeze.

“That was tough. I had to juggle becoming a single mum with starting a degree and experiencing extreme changes to my body and health, and I’d gone back to work, too. I had two jobs, actually, two kids, and my degree. I felt like I was biting off more than I could chew, but…”

Exactly – that ‘but’ and the lull afterwards speaks volumes. She just got on with it.

“I had quite a difficult pregnancy,” she says, underplaying it somewhat. For difficult, read anxiety-inducing growth scans and pre-eclampsia, and high-dose injections into her stomach every day to replace the warfarin.

“It was nothing to do with pregnancy, it was just that my body was too big and had too much going on. I have pictures from when I was pregnant with lines of bruises on my stomach where I had to inject.”

It didn’t stop there. When her baby girl, Harper, was born, Laura lost two litres of blood. Harper contracted an infection and became so poorly she had to stay in hospital for eight days. This was in 2014.

“It was just awful – a case of ‘what have I done?’” The stress of the memory is apparent in Laura’s voice. “It’s definitely not like it is in the movies!

“We got home eventually, and I got post-natal depression, so I went back to my food, my comfort, and I got bigger and bigger.

“I’d get through the day by knowing there’d be a takeaway and a big bar of chocolate at the end of it. I’d get through this awful time, with me looking after this baby, with food – my coping mechanism. It was a reward – and I still do it now, even.”

This lasted for about a year, and Laura began feeling better. She and her partner decided to try for another child.

“I so wanted the good experience of pregnancy and childbirth, so I was ready to go through it again,” she explains. “Well, the second was worse than the first – so much worse. I think a lot of it was down to me being so big, but I could never feel her move. I never knew from one day to the next if she was alive. It was horrendous.

“I was constantly at the hospital, being checked and monitored. They were on the ball with it all the time, but it was just backwards and forwards. And then we found out she was a breech baby.

“Because my size meant I was at risk of clots and infection, and I’d had a c-section, they wanted me to give birth naturally. I had to sign a document to say I’d have medical researchers present at the birth.

“We tried and tried, but she wouldn’t come out. I was in labour for about 12 hours, and she wasn’t budging. By now, my consultant – who’d said I was not to have a c-section under any circumstances – had gone off duty.

“They said I needed an emergency one, and we were arguing over what was best to do. Anyway, I had the c-section and thankfully everything seemed fine. My consultant came back and said it shouldn’t have happened.

“With that, within 12 hours, I was on the high dependency unit with a raging infection. My pulse rate was through the roof, even though all I was doing was resting in bed. My baby was taken away.

“I remember it like it was yesterday and all I kept thinking was, ‘is this ever going to end, will I ever come out of this?’ I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”

Poppy was born in January 2016, and Laura was at her heaviest then – 21 stone and 8lb, for the record.

“They said it was my weight, and it was hard to swallow; that it was my fault. It wasn’t that I hadn’t tried to lose weight or do anything about it. My will was there. I just hadn’t managed it.”

She got better and went home, but Poppy was a poorly baby. She had a milk allergy and silent reflux, and problems sleeping.

“And I still blamed myself,” says Laura, who was unable to breast feed. “Maybe if I was healthier, she would have been. I had constant guilt. Considering all I ever wanted to be was a mother, and that nice experience, I was devastated.

“I couldn’t even have my own mum there, because she was poorly.

“I recovered from it, but it got to a bad point. I was a massive comfort eater. Some people drink, some take drugs – my addiction was food. I got into this rut and didn’t want to leave the house.”

It was then that the turning point came. Knowing things weren’t good, she went to her GP.

“My doctor said, ‘if you don’t do something about your weight, you won’t reach the age of 30 – you will die.’

“It was pretty plain. I needed to do something, or I wouldn’t see my children grow up.”

Laura was just 25 years old. The prognosis was shocking, but not surprising.

“He wanted to refer me for weight loss surgery – a gastric band or bypass – and I said no. I said no immediately.

“I’d never looked into it before and knew of someone who’d reacted badly, so it wasn’t the way to go for me.

“I was determined to lose the weight myself, and something just clicked in my head.

“I started off eating better and exercising, and I suddenly found that to deal with my stress and anxiety, or any low mood, I turned to exercise rather than food.

“I fell in love with exercising and literally the weight kept coming off. I learned my own body, if you like – what was good and what was bad for me. I changed everything about what I was doing.

“Before I was the type who wouldn’t even walk to the car, yet I began walking to the gym and back. I just fell in love with it, and it was just my time – I’m a big believer in that. There was no going back.

“I lost about three stone, and then the relationship with my children’s father broke down.”

Here, Laura pauses and sighs heavily. I can hear sounds of the outdoors in the background – birds singing, the rush of a breeze.

“That was tough. I had to juggle becoming a single mum with starting a degree and experiencing extreme changes to my body and health, and I’d gone back to work, too. I had two jobs, actually, two kids, and my degree. I felt like I was biting off more than I could chew, but…”

Exactly – that ‘but’ and the lull afterwards speaks volumes. She just got on with it.

“The weight kept falling off,” she resumes, “and I think a lot of people assumed I’d lost it because of the stress of the break-up, but it really wasn’t. It was harder precisely because I am a stress eater! My comfort was to sit and eat food, and make myself feel better, but this time I didn’t do that.”

As to making up for lost time, there’s no doubt about it – Laura certainly did that.

“I learned to drive after losing the weight because I was too scared before. I was worried that if I had an accident, they wouldn’t be able to get me out of the car because of my size. It’s stupid and I’m sure people think, ‘really?!’ but it’s true.

“My first driving lesson was a real proud moment, and I passed my test first time, and I wasn’t even at my slimmest then; I’d lost about four stone at this point. But the world became my oyster.”

This was in 2017, and, in Laura’s words, it was “amazing. I could finally think, ‘I can do this’.”

But it was also one of the most challenging times of her life. “It was the year who made me who I am today,” she says. “I know that sounds cheesy, but it really did. I had to face so much, and I came out of the other side. I look back now and think ‘woah’.”

Basically, she had a lot of things going on at once – typical of her, it seems.

 “But I came to a plateau. At first it came off really quickly, because there was a lot to lose. That first year, I probably lost about four stone in all, and then it creeped off. I lost about nine stone altogether.

“It made me recognise a lot of things about myself.”

So not only did Laura take a stand for her health, but she also carved out a new life on the back of a difficult relationship break-up. Through her degree in health and social care degree at Grimsby Institute, right on her doorstep, she made new friends and discovered a different kind of confidence.

“Uni changed me. I wasn’t just ‘Mum’. It was about being Laura again.”

She graduated in 2019, while still working. She’s a support worker for adults with behavioural and learning difficulties, a “challenging” role she took on about four years ago. She’s always worked in care, having previously supported older people before going to university and discovering her niche. “I decided this area was what I wanted to do,” she says, “and it all fell into place.”

Back to the weight loss, and Laura says it’s all very well, but no one tells you what you’ll be left with.

“Social media gives an unrealistic view of things,” she says, firmly. ‘Lose this weight, and you’ll look like this. It’s not true.

“To other people I’d look fantastic. I’d look really slim, and I’d have a nice dress on, but underneath everything’s being held in with a pair of fat pants.

“No matter how hard you exercise, you can’t do anything about excess skin. I trained from day dot and ate healthily. No one says you’ll be left with loads of skin that’s never going anywhere.

“Yes, it was great because my health was better, and I didn’t have to take medication for blood clots anymore, my mental health was better, but I was left with this massive scar, always there and always reminding me that I used to be.”

That’s what Laura calls her excess skin – a scar.

“I stigmatised myself,” she admits, above the roar of a nearby car engine. “I was still the fat girl, even though I wasn’t big anymore. I get emotional when I talk about it.

“It’s funny, because people see you in one way – but I knew what was going on beneath my clothes. Obviously, with me being single, I went on dates, and that was traumatic… the idea of taking it a step further and revealing myself. I actually had one-night stands because it was easier, and I’d never have to see them again.

“I used to lay on my bed and wish I could take a pair of scissors to my skin and cut it all off. I used to pull it and pummel it and lay in different positions to imagine what it’d be like without it.

“I had to tuck my skin in all the time, and it would get so sore. That’s another thing people don’t talk about – the pain. Underneath my apron, it used to itch and itch and itch, especially around my caesarean scar.

“Then, when I exercised, it’d move. It used to clap! It was the most embarrassing noise. I always used to make a joke of it in the gym, saying my belly was applauding me, but inside I was mortified.

“Then there’s the issue of others. You’re not dealing just with how you feel about it and are coping with it, you feel a degree of responsibility towards how other people feel and react, too. It felt like all eyes were on me, at times.

“And then there was my silhouette. I’d lost all this weight, but the excess skin made it look like I was lying! I used to think people would say, ‘well, where has she lost it? If she’s lost nine stone, then what on earth did she look like before?’

“I had this massive belly all the time, and a second pair of boobs because I had this fold beneath them. I wished so hard it’d go away. I had some dark times when I thought I’d have been better staying big. I’d just lay and cry.

“Every time I went out with my friends, it was a case of finding something to wear that would make me look slimmer, but also hide it. I still had that baggy clothes mind-set. Sucky-in pants were my thing!
“But because of that, because I got good at hiding it, not many people believed me. They didn’t understand how bad it was. I showed my mum, and she couldn’t believe it!

“It was exhausting, and a massive battle all the time – never mind having to explain it all the time.”

Laura Tummy Tuck

Laura had always thought about a tummy tuck, but the cost of having it done privately was initially beyond her reach.

“I knew the NHS wouldn’t entertain me,” she says. It’s an issue she feels strongly about; after all, if this interview proves anything, it shows how much she endured to get to this point.

“I am passionate about this. The NHS very quickly offers you a gastric bypass, but this is just a physical change. There’s no mental change – and that’s the key. It’s all about mentality.

“Such surgery deals with only the consequence, not the cause. I was offered a bypass, which costs a similar price to skin removal, but I couldn’t have the removal because it’s cosmetic, even though I’d done the hardest part myself.”

I can hear the metaphorical speech marks being placed around the word cosmetic. Because, of course, for Laura, this has nothing to do with looking good – it’s about how she feels. Her cousin Karl came to the rescue, lending her the money for the procedure.

“I say when I see him, not all superheroes wear capes,” she says. “Not many people can say they have changed someone’s life, but he has.”

A friend of Laura’s works at St Hugh’s Hospital, and although she had considered travelling abroad, she knew the hospital was for her.

After an initial video call with consultant plastic and reconstructive surgeon Mr Muhammad Riaz, she “just knew.”

“He was so humble. It wasn’t about me looking like a bikini model – I never will be. It was about the result matching my body, and he was honest about the outcome. It was his honesty and the fact he obviously knew what he was doing… he was the one.”

Without a hint of nerves, she booked in for the procedure. Her only reservation was if she was being selfish, spending money on something purely for her, when she could take her children to Disney World instead. Or, worse, if something went badly wrong and she didn’t wake up from the operating table.

But worst of all was the thought of Harper and Poppy growing up with not only an unhappy mum, but a negative role model.

Laura’s Fleur de Lys surgery took place on November 28 2020, just 11 weeks after her first consultation and 12 days after her 30th birthday.

She was due at St Hugh’s at 7.30am. The night before, she set her alarm, but she got up late – at 7.05am, in fact – with just enough time to take one last ‘before’ photo.

She got there in time, and the rest is history. Get ready for an intake of breath. Laura had 4.237kg of skin, tissue and fat removed. Imagine it – that’s about as heavy as a fully-grown cat. Two times heavier than a chihuahua, and half the weight of a dachshund. It’s almost 1,500 golf balls. At least, that’s what the internet says.

“I woke up and the first thing I said was, ‘has it gone?’ The nurse replied, ‘yes, and you’ve got the perfect hour-glass figure.’ I was choked up with emotion. It felt like a dream – I never thought it would happen to me.”

After a two-night stay – with no visitors due to the Covid-19 pandemic – for Laura, the ‘scar’ which blighted her life has finally gone. She was in pain, but the nausea caused by morphine was far worse, and now she can’t even remember how it felt.

“It was painful but not so much that I’d never have it done again, which says a lot given I had a large chunk of my body taken away!

“St Hugh’s was such a brilliant experience. I’d have the belly back just so I could go back in… they were a wonderful team of people.”

She recuperated with her mum, Debby, and soon went home to her children and her partner, Luke, who she’d met a week after her first consultation at St Hugh’s (“I’d never been in love until I met him”). They’re living together now.

“I got my operation and my soulmate all at once. It’s funny but Luke didn’t quite understand what I was going to have done. About two weeks beforehand, he looked it up on the internet and was shocked at how different I was going to look.

“He’s been so supportive. When I got out of hospital he looked after me and dressed me, and we were still quite new into the relationship. He’s brilliant.”

 

Laura is the first to admit she’s gained a little weight since the operation, what with Christmas and still having water retention. But she’s not beating herself up about it.

“At first I was so worried about the skin coming back,” she says. “I had nightmares in which my tummy returned, and that made me want to go on a diet.”

She sought out advice from St Hugh’s and a nutritionist, and now there’s no stopping her.

She even has her sights set on the next step in her journey: skin removal on her arms, and maybe a new tattoo – but definitely no more babies.

“I’m so much healthier than I thought I’d ever be,” she says, laughing. “The change since the operation is unreal… simple things like washing, walking, literally down to putting my underwear on, playing with my kids… people don’t realise what it means, what effect it has on my daily life, that the skin isn’t there anymore.

“Like putting a pair of jeans on that I can just pull up and forget about, rather than then having to find a baggy t-shirt to put on as well. Even bloating from getting my period – I’d never seen that before! I’d always had a belly.

“I’ve got a different mind-set now. Don’t get me wrong, I have days where I do eat what I want, but it never lasts longer than a day and I’m straight back to eating properly again.

“I’m not on a diet all the time, and I don’t want to be. I just don’t eat rubbish. I know what I can and can’t have.

“I can’t believe I used to be that person. I look back at photographs and wonder how I was able to walk.

“It makes me feel quite sad that I was so unhappy, and that there will be other people out there who are me, and who I was all that time ago, and it breaks my heart. I wish I could go find them and tell them it is possible to change.

“People think weight loss is about looking great in clothes, but to me it is so much more. It means I get to see my kids grow up and I don’t have to take medication.”

Talking of now, and how things are so much better, how’s this for revenge? Laura lives near some of the boys – now men – who used to pick on her at school. One of them told her how amazing she looked and tried flirting with her. Hang on a minute, thought Laura, you were horrible to me at school.

“It just proves how shallow some people can be,” she says. “I deserve to be spoken to now, like a human being, because I’ve lost weight and I don’t look like how I used to. It’s so sad. Thankfully I’m a strong-willed person. Some people would be totally different with that. I don’t think so, mate!”

And all those background sounds throughout our chat? Turns out Laura was on her daily walk around the neighbourhood, clocking up 20,000 steps, not once breaking for breath. As for me, I’d spent the last hour and a half curled up on a chair, entwined by charging cables, entranced by Laura’s words.

This is much more than words, of course. Her story, her journey, her transformation – whatever term you’d like to coin – is inspirational… to me and you, to anyone thinking ‘I recognise myself in her’, or to those about to undergo a life-changing procedure. But mostly, I hope, to Laura’s children, Harper and Poppy, who, when they’re old enough, can read this and take pride in their strong, courageous, determined – and here’s the really brilliant part – incredibly happy mum.

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