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Burk O'Brien-Eichman

One night, Burk O’Brien-Eichman was startled awake by her heart racing and overwhelming disorientation. Unsure of the exact cause, Burk thought she was having a heart attack and soon questioned whether she would live through the night. Fortunately, it was a minor heart arrhythmia. Nonetheless, Burk knew at that moment, something would have to change or else a heart attack, or something even worse, was just around the corner. At a young 33-years-old, Burk realized she had her whole life ahead of her—a life to pursue her passions and be around the ones she loves—and she wasn’t going to let the extra weight or her mild intellectual disability get in the way.

That was two years and 135 pounds ago. With the guidance and support from her doctor, Kathryn Lorenz, Burk sought a healthier lifestyle through an improved diet and exercise routine. Dr. Lorenz created guidelines to get Burk started on the path to healthy living. Looking back on it now, Burk admits these guidelines significantly contributed to her success and motivated her to stay on track. Without Dr. Lorenz’s help, Burk says she never would have known where to start, or she may have gone down a path she thought was correct but ultimately would do more harm than good.

Along with her family’s ceaseless support, Dr. Lorenz’s constant guidance brought Burk to the first step in her journey to better health—eliminating junk food and soda from her diet. What she thought would be a minor adjustment ended up being the first stepping stone in the right direction for Burk. “When I stopped eating fast food, other junk foods and stopped drinking soda, I almost instantly lost 15-20 pounds,” Burk explains. This significant drop in weight stunned Burk and made her realize just what that type of food does to your body without you realizing it.

To illustrate the weight she’d lost, Burk’s father, Mo, filled four gallon-size jugs with water and hung them over her shoulders. Burk thought she’d realized the full significance of those first 15-20 pounds, but seeing those jugs filled with water made the transformation even more shocking. “I teared up and it took a bit for me to understand I’d been carrying around that weight for so long,. Burk recalls.

The journey didn’t end there though, Burk had a much larger goal in mind. Her older brother, Aaron, lives near the Cascade Mountain Range in Oregon and hikes one of its tallest mountains, Mt. Hood. Oftentimes when Burk, her parents, and her younger brother would visit Aaron, Mo would join Aaron on his hikes. Even though Burk wanted to accompany them, she’d always watch them scale the 11,250-foot mountain and think, “There’s no way. There’s absolutely no way.”

Yet, there was a way. Once Burk started making healthier choices—eliminating junk food, choosing healthier options, and exercising more often—she was able to hike Mt. Hood with her dad and brother. Once at the top of their ascent, Burk was taken aback by the sheer magnificence and beauty of the landscape. She soon found herself overcome with emotion as she slowly realized what she’d just accomplished.  She’d not only conquered this mountain—something she never imagined she would be able to do—but she’d also made it through the first hurdle in her journey to better health.

As she stood there alongside her brother and dad, still basking in her accomplishment, Burk knew immediately she wanted to do it again. And more. Even though climbing Mt. Hood was an outstanding victory in itself, Burk eyed Mount St. Helens looming across the horizon.

Despite having made it up as far as she did on Mt. Hood, Burk and her family had only scratched the surface when it came to the mountain’s staggering height—not having trekked the entire distance to its summit but stopping somewhere amongst its slope.

Burk knew she’d have to make more changes to her diet and start exercising more on a regular basis to accomplish this next goal though. So in order to start the next step in her journey, Burk turned to her family, Dr. Lorenz, and Riverside for guidance and encouragement.

Dr. Lorenz advised Burk that her next step would be to pay attention to food nutrition labels, as well as minding her portion sizes. For Burk, much of her success after the initial 15-20 pound weight drop was all because of her changing her portion sizes. She no longer would eat as much as she could and feel as if she needed to eat all her food. Instead, she’d ask herself if she was truly hungry. If she realized it was actually her mind telling her she was hungry rather than her stomach, she would stop eating and save the rest of her food for another time.

Despite the success of these new guidelines, Burk soon realized you can never tell yourself you can’t have something. “Can’t is a powerful word. As soon as you say you can’t have something, that’s ALL you want,” she explains. So to avoid telling herself she can’t have something, Burk still allows herself to eat alongside her family whenever they order things like pizza or Chinese, but now she just eats until she’s full and tries to choose healthier options whenever they’re available.

It hasn’t been all rainbows and sunshine though, and Burk will be the first to admit that she’s fallen several times. Though she frequently craves healthier foods and has noticed certain “junk” foods no longer taste as good, the cravings are still there. Whenever she’s out at the movies, the scent of melted butter and the rows of neon candy boxes call Burk’s name. The candy machines at work catch her attention more often than she’d like. The rehab facility Burk frequents for her knee recently had a carry-in; seeing all the food splayed out on the tables really tested her willpower, but she managed to stay strong through it all. Instead of immediately indulging the temptations, Burk will once again ask herself if she’s really hungry and needs that large popcorn or Twix bar. Usually, she quickly realizes it’s all in her head, not her stomach and busies herself with the movie, work, etc. until she stops thinking about it.

From the very beginning though, Dr. Lorenz told Burk she should still treat herself every once in a while. Special events such as birthdays and holidays are a good time to loosen up a bit and enjoy the day for what it is—a treat. Burk understands how important these treats are to staying on track, so she doesn’t hesitate to enjoy herself whenever the correct time arises. “I still don’t go overboard, but just enjoy enough to be happy,” she explains.

Her diet wasn’t the only thing Burk changed though. After the initial weight loss, she noticed she had more energy and desire to get out and do things. Now, walking is one of her favorite hobbies, whether it be by herself, with her dogs, or with her dad. Burk also plans on taking salsa lessons and attending an upcoming birdwatching class at the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center as well. Also, whenever Burk is at rehab for her knee, she tries to utilize their exercise machines, especially the pool.

Outside of exercise, Burk has also found herself doing something she never imagined—volunteering at a church. Every Wednesday night, Burk volunteers at the Tipp City United Methodist Church during their weekly community spaghetti dinners. She does whatever they need her to do—whether that be washing dishes, handing out food, or cleaning up. Burk enjoys her new active lifestyle so much now, she would like to have a job in the community. With the help of Riverside’s Community Navigator, Dwayne Hall, Burk hopes to find a job—any job—in the Troy, Tipp City area.

Once she’s accomplished this, she would eventually like to live on her own. Even though she loves her parents dearly and has enjoyed living in Tipp City her entire life, Burk would like to move to Troy and work somewhere within walking distance of her apartment. According to Burk, she’s ready for the independence and a break from the routine she’s lived the past 35 years.

She’s also open to helping others on their weight loss journey. Burk knows from experience that you can have an entire support system cheering you on through thick and thin, but unless you have someone who has or is currently going through the same thing, it’s not quite the same. You need someone who’s empathetic, not just sympathetic, to your situation and understands everything you’re going through. Burk also acknowledges that you can’t force someone to make changes like the ones she made. “A person has to want it, you can’t force them to do it,” she says. If someone does eventually decide they want to lose weight just like she did, Burk is open to sharing her story, answering their questions, and being their support system. “Whatever I can do to help, I’ll be there for them whenever they make that decision,” she explains.

Two years ago, none of this was even feasible to Burk. What was once a terrifying realization has become an opportunity for her to live the life she’s always wanted. So far, the results leave her amazed as she realizes how happy she is now. “I’m happy, my family sees that. They see I’m present now, doing more things, getting involved. I’m happy,” she says. And she’ll keep striving for happiness while maintaining a healthy lifestyle and changing for the better.




May 2015

August 2016

October 2017

October 2017