Losing Weight, Gaining a Future

Genesis Center for Weight Management changes lives

The aromas of  Italian sauces, meats, seafood, freshly made pasta and desserts are a wonderful memory of Sal Cracco's childhood. Visits to his grandparents' house were assaults on the senses.

The Craccos were "foodies'' before the slang term for food aficionados even existed.

"My grandma thought if you were less than 250 pounds, you were malnourished,'' Sal Cracco said of his childhood. "We had everything at home and at my grandparents,' and we had a lot.''

Sal Cracco, bariatric patientSal Cracco, right, chef,
caterer and director of the
Culinary Kids program at
Family Resources, Inc.,
serves a luncheon with
Matt, one of his students.
Cracco has had his life
transformed by surgical
weight loss through the
Genesis Center for
Weight Management.

It was only natural he would develop a love for food that would become his career. He has worked since he was 14 around food and restaurants. He has owned about a dozen of his own places, worked for others and now teaches at-risk teens about the culinary industry for Family Resources in Davenport.

It was also only natural he would over the years become dangerously overweight. Along with the love of food, being overweight was passed down from generations.

His father died relatively young because of his weight. He vowed not to follow his father to an early death.

"What Can I Do?"

The photo on Sal Cracco's Family Resources identification badge shows a person who is now unrecognizable. When that photo was taken, he weighed about 325 pounds. He had Type 2 diabetes and was spending $500 a month for insulin. Each day, he was taking nine other medications.

"When I sat down at home, I sat in a recliner and I would always fall asleep. I had no energy,'' Cracco of Bettendorf said. "I really had no life. I was not a fun guy to be around. 

"You say you are going to lose weight and you are going to exercise, but it doesn't happen. It never happens. You don't have the energy to change because of the weight. You only feel more like you've failed…so you eat more.''


In November 2009, Matthew Christophersen, M.D., FACS, one of three surgeons with the nationally accredited Genesis Center for Weight Management, changed the direction of Cracco's life.

Cracco proudly reports he now weighs 160 pounds, saying, "I was probably in grade school the last time I weighed that. After the surgery, I left the hospital after two days with no diabetes. I can wear designer jeans. I can buy anything off the rack. I went from a 54-inch waist to 34... From a size XXXL shirt to a medium.

"I feel like I can take on the world now. I can do anything I want. I feel like I can live for a long time. That wasn't the way I felt before the surgery.''

More than any one single moment of revelation in his own life, it was watching a friend's life end that delivered the message that something had to change.

"He had diabetes, and he was a big guy. I saw him lose a foot by amputation; he was going through renal failure and was on dialysis; and, he was going blind before he died," Cracco said. "I was headed in the same direction. I was beginning to experience some neuropathy in my legs. I don't think I would have made it another 10 years without surgery.''

Sharing His Skills, Experience
At the educational sessions to introduce surgical weight-loss options, potential patients learn that the surgery is only a tool. Patients themselves will determine how successful they are following surgery. Cracco reports the process is not easy.

Most patients are back on solid foods at six weeks after surgery. Cracco, however, was on a soft diet for about six months after surgery, until he learned to eat more slowly and chew his food more. Only until he learned that could he progress to regular foods.

"I think people would say I was a bear during those six months but gradually it got better,'' he said. "Now I eat pretty much anything I want but I may cook it differently, and I eat less of it."

Cracco has worked out some of his own alternative recipes for the foods he loves and shares them with others. He explored ways to reduce the fat and sugar in dishes like chicken cacciatore, chicken marsala and pasta dishes.

Cracco shared his new versions of popular Italian dishes recently with patients of the Genesis Center for Bariatric Surgery.

"A lot of bariatric patients think they have to cook two meals; one for themselves and one for the family. If you follow the right meal plans, all you need to do is add additional sides for the family,'' he said.

He is also teaching culinary arts students who are residents of the Wittenmyer Youth Center in Davenport. The at-risk teens gain highly sought after skills for the food service industry. Five of his former students in the program either are working already in restaurants or are furthering their educations in culinary schools.

"When they leave us, they are ready to work in the culinary industry and not just at the entry level,'' Cracco said proudly. "Now we're starting to get calls from the restaurants who have one of our kids. They want more of them.''

Cracco cooks for about 200 people every day at the Wittenmyer Youth Center but he may not be done being a restaurant owner yet. 

"I've got two catering businesses, and I've have this concept for a restaurant that I know would work great here, just looking for the right investors,'' he said.

At 160 pounds, his life looks much different than it did at 325 pounds. He is talking about a future he wasn't sure he would have.

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