WGN-Ch. 9 Chief Meteorologist Tom Skilling is set to return to work Monday after undergoing gastric-bypass surgery, which he called “a life-altering experience.”
Skilling, 68, said he has lost 50 pounds since the March 4 procedure at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Doctors also found and repaired a small hernia, he said.
He said he’s still in some pain, but he’s excited to get back to work. He will be wearing new suits, and he will be working remotely. He has transformed his North Side home into a TV studio to deliver his weather forecasts during the coronavirus crisis. Meteorologists, anchors and reporters from other Chicago TV stations also have been broadcasting from home.
“This is amazing. I’ve been doing this for 50 years. There wouldn’t have been even a prayer of a chance of setting up what we set up here to do,” Skilling said. “I’m able to prepare every graphic that I prepare at the station right here.”
Here are some highlights from our conversation.
His family’s medical history played into his decision to have the operation.
Skilling said he couldn’t walk three blocks or climb a flight of stairs without getting winded before the surgery. He also worried about suffering the same fate as his father, Thomas, who died in 2006 at the age of 83.
“I went into this knowing I needed help. I was moving first stage into diabetes. I had cholesterol issues. My whole family has always had high cholesterol. I was following in the path of my father, and my father ended up having a massive stroke. He was comatose a year after that and survived two years beyond that. Never walked again. Never ate properly,” Skilling said.
He’s glad he didn’t wait to have surgery.
Illinois’ stay-at-home order began March 21, less than three weeks after Skilling’s surgery. Because of the pandemic, the Illinois Department of Public Health has recommended doctors cancel non-urgent surgeries and procedures to limit the risk of potential coronavirus exposure and to focus resources on coronavirus patients.
“It wasn’t planned this way, but had I been a week or two later in having this done, it wouldn’t have happened,” Skilling said. “You prepare for this for six months, and I think to have the rug pulled out on this thing at the last minute would have been really frustrating.”
He’s embraced the scale.
“My doctor said, ‘Don’t look at the scale every day.’ I said, ‘Doctor, I’m not only going to look at it every day, I’m going to look at it 15 times a day because I’m curious to see how all this works out.’ Weight loss after these surgeries is non-linear. You’ll go down a pound-and-a-half one day, next day you’ll plateau, next day you’ll go down another pound-and-a-half and so forth and so on,” Skilling said.
“I told him, ‘This is like watching climate change.’ You look at the temperatures every day and they bounce up and down, but what you’re more interested in is long-term trends, so that’s what I’ve been doing with weight. But what I’ve discovered is, I put on the suit just for fun to see how it compares and I’m swimming in it.”
He’s adjusting to his new diet.
Skilling said he is gradually adding solid food to his diet, which is a learning process because his stomach can be temperamental.
“The major task the last couple of weeks has been getting used to a new diet. Meals for me now consist of little two-to-three ounce servings of protein. Because of the limited volume in your stomach, you don’t get the nutrition you once did with your former football-sized stomach,” Skilling said.
“I will never eat the way I once ate before, thank God in a way. You will completely and (for) the rest of your life either stick to your diet or you can stretch that little pouch that’s your new stomach and gain the weight back. So it’s most important that you stick to a carefully-crafted regimen. I continue to check in with my nutritionist, and I’ve been fortunate. I’ve been working with a woman who helps me in meal prep.”
He wanted to go back to work sooner, but he’s glad he didn’t.
“There’s just nothing about watching the way nature puts together our weather that isn’t fascinating from beginning to end and always has been for me. I’ve been grateful in the post-surgery state I was in not to have deadlines every day. I’d offered, by the way, to come back to work two weeks earlier, and the station said, ‘No, you’re not ready yet.’ We had originally planned and we were told to plan for four to six weeks. That’s the standard operating procedure on these gastric-bypass surgeries, although you hear stories about people getting back to work in two weeks,” said Skilling, who has been working for WGN for more than 40 years.
“I kind of hoped in the back of my mind to be back in two weeks, but the station said no, and frankly, I’m grateful. I think it was probably the right way to go, to be quiet, because this is pretty darn invasive surgery.”
He’s broadcasting from home, but he (probably) won’t be wearing his new bathrobe on air.
Skilling said WGN news anchor Micah Materre and weather producer Bill Snyder recently gifted him a bathrobe. He joked about wearing it while delivering the weather from home.
“I told my news director that I’ve always wanted to do a weather show in a bathrobe. And I kidded him. I said, ‘Look, I’ll roll the bed in here, and we’ll do weather from the bed.’ And he said, ‘Please, wait ‘til I’m retired before you do anything like that.’ So I probably won’t do it,” Skilling said with a laugh.
He’s thankful for the support from colleagues and viewers.
Skilling has been posting surgery updates and photos on his Facebook page.
“I talked with the station. I said, ‘Do you want me to be quiet about this?’ And they said, ‘Well, how do you feel?’ And I said, ‘There’s nothing secret about this. I wish I didn’t have to do this but I know I do, and I absolutely do.’ The outpouring when I put a couple of things up on Facebook was beyond anything I could have imagined. The kind comments from people have been absolutely mind-boggling to me,” Skilling said.
“The one thing I would say to people is thank you. You supported, you were so wonderful and I hope I live up to the kind comments that were made because I love my work, and I’m grateful to be getting back to it. I’m grateful to be hooking up with my readers, my viewers and everybody else who have been just kind beyond words. I didn’t expect anything like that. This has been very surprising to me.”
©2020 the Chicago Tribune
Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.