In February 2000, Ken Clare's weight loss surgery journey began, and it was this which was to give rise to the website and charity known as WLSinfo.
Ken is a Registered Nurse who suffered from super morbid obesity. His condition severely affected his mobility, his ability to join in and take pleasure from family and social occasions, his self esteem and confidence and his ability to deal with many everyday matters, such as personal hygiene. After struggling for many years, he sought help from his GP and attended an obesity management clinic. In September of 2002 he had a Roux en Y gastric bypass with Mr Kerrigan at Aintree University Hospital in Liverpool.
At that time there was virtually no patient-led support in the UK. On the day of his surgery Ken met Jeff, a post op RNYer, who he relentlessly pumped for information. Jeff offered Ken the advice and reassurance that only a fellow patient could. Surgeons, doctors and dieticians can give plenty of statistics and medical information, but what they can't give is the personal experience. Ken discovered that talking to someone who had walked in his shoes empowered him and he felt able to ask Jeff the questions that he could never have brought himself to ask a doctor.
Ken's post op experience was rough, but with a combination of determination, bravery and downright ignorance, Ken soldiered on. In January 2003 Ken was approached by a local GP who asked him to talk to a pre op RNYer who was considering cancelling her impending surgery. Ken and Jean (Ken's wife) met with the lady and her husband and they were able to share their experiences and answer the multitude of questions that we all have pre op but are often too scared to ask. Jean reminded Ken of his pre op vision of setting up a website/support group. The seed was sown.
After further discussion with Mr Kerrigan the idea of a support site grew. Ken's experience in nursing, informatics and the health service meant he had the knowledge and contacts to undertake the project. Initially he envisaged his target group as being male bypass patients in the Liverpool area. Mr Kerrigan suggested that he widen the scope and include all weight loss surgery procedures, and both genders. Ken left the appointment with his head full of ideas and enthusiasm. WLSinfo was born.
Ken's vision for WLSinfo was:
- A professional, quality assured set of information
- A user led forum where people could provide each other with information and mutual support
With the support of Jean, their daughter Ally and Kieran Lamb (the librarian at what was then the Liverpool Health Authority) Ken and his team began to put the ideas into action. It was a long and arduous process - much of it evolving through trial and error. With virtually no website training or experience, they had to start at the beginning and learn the rudiments of website design. With a one-off grant of £270 from the Aintree Gastric Fund, business cards were printed and sent off to surgeons. WLSinfo went live on 13 January 2003 with an official launch date of 27 January 2003 - coincidentally Ken's birthday.
From its initial concept, WLSinfo had now become a reality. However, that was the beginning rather than the end of the story. The site had been born from the lack of information and support available for pre and post op weight loss surgery patients. Its founder himself was still very much at the beginning of his journey so it was in tandem that the site and the members grew and evolved. The site became busier than had ever been imagined with members joining not only throughout the UK but also from around the globe.
One of the features that made WLSinfo unique was its all inclusive policy. Whereas the majority of support sites at that time were surgery specific, WLSinfo welcomed all surgery types. Bandsters, DSers, RNYers engaged in debate, discussion and shared their experiences under one umbrella.
WLSinfo was to be an inclusive site and that was something that would not be compromised, an objective that holds as strong as ever today. This has, at times, been a challenging commitment for the team and Committee, but it's not for negotiation.
Once the site was established and Ken and the team could see how quickly it was growing, he founded and registered the charity which is now governed by an elected Committee of WLSinfo members, all of whom are weight loss surgery patients themselves. It is this Committee, assisted by the Team of moderators, which establishes policy and direction for both the charity and site, and runs both on a day to day basis. The charity grew in its first five years to over 13,000 members. The discussion forums are vibrant and display the understanding and compassion members feel towards each other, sharing the good and bad, often with plenty of doses of good humour. The photo gallery and members albums provide real inspiration to both pre and post oppers, the chat rooms provide a place for informal discussion and friendship. The helpline is often a source of advice and information for those who feel they have nowhere else to turn.
All members of the Committee and Team give their time and efforts to both the site and charity on an entirely voluntary basis.