- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 5, 2009

Two years ago, Jack Koukerjinian was so overweight that just walking up steps without pain was impossible, and jumping out of a window blindfolded or scampering down a ladder seemed, well, beyond impossible.

Now, after battling obesity for nearly 18 years, the 42-year-old single father is a volunteer firefighter in Prince William County.

Mr. Koukerjinian, who was born in Beirut and grew up in Greece, came to the United States in 1979 for treatment of leukemia, which returned in 1990 when his father was battling cancer.

“I turned to food and nearly doubled in weight, and ever since then I was obese,” he said.

In 1999, a door opened when Mr. Koukerjinian was hired in the financial department of Sibley Memorial Hospital in Northwest, where he still works.

He knew his condition was worsening when, at 34, he was constantly tired, his knees were failing and he feared he had sleep apnea.

After years of considering weight-loss surgery, Mr. Koukerjinian decided in 2007 to undergo the procedure at the hospital’s new center, whose program included psychological tests and sleep studies.

He said he came from a family that loves to eat, so his biggest fear was his new relationship with food.

“It was never a fear about the surgery,” Mr. Koukerjinian said.

As the first gastric bypass patient at the center, Mr. Koukerjinian was required to go through additional hoops, including his insurance company, which required six months of dietary discipline and training with a dietitian.

“He was a trooper throughout the whole process,” said Kelley Osborne, director of the Sibley Center for Weight Loss Surgery. “He’s very motivated.”

He underwent the procedure at 289 pounds. Roughly one month later, he signed up to volunteer as a firefighter for the Evergreen Fire Department, Station 515, in Prince William County.

Mr. Koukerjinian said he submitted an application just to assist at the department, not necessarily to become a firefighter. But a few months later, friends encouraged him to enroll in the training academy to become an official firefighter.

“Every boy wants to be a firefighter, so I said, ‘OK, I’ll try it out,’ ” he said.

Mr. Koukerjinian attended the academy for four months, which required him to perform such tasks as climbing down ladders and jumping off of high surfaces - often while blindfolded.

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