A new woman

    Kelleni Camacho and her son Carlos Camacho work out with trainer Tammy Miller at the Rogue Valley Family YMCA in Medford. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta

    At her worst point, Kelleni Camacho was mostly bedridden, weighed 283 pounds, couldn't dress without help and was on 20 medications for a host of health problems ranging from diabetes to an enlarged heart.

    "I was at the point where I was saying, 'I'm ready, Lord. Take me. I'm in pain.' I was praying to go. I was at the breaking point," Camacho says.

    Whenever she left her bed, the Medford resident needed supplemental oxygen and a cane. She was frequently hospitalized for pneumonia, chest pain and other medical issues.

    "The people at Providence hospital knew me by name," she recalls.

    Then an employee of Rogue Community Health suggested Camacho enroll in the Rogue Valley Family YMCA's 12 Weeks to a Healthier New You program.

    Because she is on the Oregon Health Plan, Camacho's coordinated care organization, Jackson Care Connect, was able to use flex-spending funds to pay for her participation in the YMCA program. The program is free for patients referred by their health care providers. It costs Jackson Care Connect $190 per participant.

    Jackson Care Connect says 1,500 of its patients have improved their fitness and eating habits through YMCA programs in Medford and Ashland. For patients who want to become members, the YMCA waives joining fees and charges participants one-third of the regular membership fees. Jackson Care Connect pays another one-third of the membership fee, with the YMCA covering the remaining one-third.

    Because of her many health problems, Camacho started slowly with water therapy classes at the YMCA pool in Medford two years ago. She began to shift her eating habits, eschewing fast food and carbohydrates, and instead choosing lean meats plus fresh fruits and vegetables.

    The results were disappointing at first.

    "I was working out, but I wasn't losing weight. I was on steroids for asthma and that made it hard to lose weight," Camacho says. "I was really upset. I thought, 'Why am I not losing weight?' "

    She says the 12-week program went by quickly, and she had lost only two pounds. Others in the program were seeing faster results.

    Camacho signed up for a second run through the program. Her health was improving, so she didn't take as many steroids for her asthma. The steroids had caused her blood sugar to spike, increasing her intake of insulin. When she cut back on the steroids, her diabetes improved.

    The second time around, Camacho lost 50 pounds.

    She was able to take Zumba dance fitness classes and do weight training. She began reading nutrition labels, learning that sugar content was just as important as calorie and fat content.

    During her long illness, Camacho said, her husband, son and daughter had grown reliant on fast food because she could no longer cook.

    She banned fast food from their house, and they all made changes to how they cooked. Instead of eating refried beans cooked with lard, for example, the family shifted to lean carne asada — sliced, grilled steak.

    The 5-foot-3 Camacho went from 283 pounds to 165 pounds and hopes to reach 150 to 155 pounds.

    Her husband, who works at a vineyard, lost 40 pounds. Her daughter, a caretaker pursuing an education in health care, lost 20 pounds.

    Her son, Carlos Camacho, joined her at the YMCA and began weight training. He became a high school wrestler, further improving his health and dropping from 190 pounds to 164 pounds.

    He is currently ranked 13th in the state in his weight class and was elected president of the sophomore class at South Medford High School at the beginning of the school year.

    Kelleni Camacho credits her son with encouraging her on their shared journey to fitness. On some days, she felt too sick and tired to go to the YMCA.

    "He would say, 'Come on, Mom. Once you go, you'll feel better,' " she says.

    Carlos Camacho says he has learned healthier eating habits, lowered his body fat percentage and has increased his lean muscle mass.

    "I was pretty chubby. I would not watch any calorie intake," he says. "When I was bored, I would just eat. I didn't have information on what was healthy. I would sit and eat a whole bag of chips."

    Kelleni Camacho has lowered her prescriptions to five, including medication for chronic pain and an asthma rescue inhaler.

    She says in the past, every time she visited a doctor she would be placed on another medication. No one was addressing the underlying causes of her health problems, and the side effects of each drug continued to multiply.

    "I really had to be an advocate for my own body and health," she says.

    Although Camacho was active when she was young, she fell off a truck at age 17 and injured her back. She also gained weight during her two pregnancies. She later had a minor heart attack.

    Camacho says emotional issues and childhood trauma prompted her to use illegal drugs. After she got clean, she holed up in her apartment to avoid drug users and dealers — and turned to eating to cover up her feelings when she was sad and upset.

    Her mother, an addict, was abusive toward her and died at age 40 from heart problems. Her father was not a part of her life.

    "When I would have memories of childhood abuse, I ran to food," she says.

    To address her emotional scars, she is attending church-based counseling.

    "I have to learn to forgive all the people who hurt me, and I have to learn to forgive myself," she says.

    The Camacho family's journey to better health caught the eye of Gov. Kate Brown, who praised and recognized their work in a speech when she was sworn into office Jan. 9.

    Kelleni and Carlos Camacho traveled to Salem to visit the Capitol building and meet with the governor.

    "It was amazing. When we first got there, I was staring at the golden statue on the Capitol building," Carlos Camacho says. "I thought, 'This is like a dream come true.' It was exciting hearing Kate Brown's plans for the future."

    In her speech, Brown said Oregon has succeeded in expanding health insurance coverage to 95 percent of adults and 98 percent of children. She praised Jackson Care Connect and the YMCA's 12 Weeks to a Healthier New You program as an innovative approach to promote overall health and wellness.

    Brown proposed investing additional money to expand health insurance to cover all children in the state so they can achieve their full potential.

    Carlos Camacho has been offered internship opportunities at the Capitol.

    Kelleni Camacho has been sharing the story of her journey in hopes of inspiring others to make changes. She is considering a leadership course through her church.

    Camacho says she was ultimately motivated to transform her life so she wouldn't die prematurely, as so many of her relatives have done.

    "I'm not leaving my kids at a young age," says the 41-year-old. "I want to know my kids succeeded in life, and I want to see my grandchildren."

    The family is still moving forward, embracing new challenges and opportunities.

    Camacho went hiking at Table Rocks and rode horses in 2016.

    "I want to go zip-lining," she says. "That's one of my goals."

    — Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

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