Saturday, August 21, 2010

Miami Herald Article on John Lester

Community unites to pay for man's bariatric surgery

Several years ago, I was delighted when John Lester called me and invited me to sing at the annual Christmas Pageant with his children's choir at Beacon Hill Preparatory School in Miami Gardens. Lester is head of the school's music and drama program.

It was a wonderful evening; the children sang beautifully and even covered for me when I forgot the words to one of the songs. They were absolutely delightful, Lester had trained them well.

That was over a decade ago. Lester, who already had a weight problem at that time, eventually grew to weigh nearly 1,000 pounds. Gastric bypass surgery was desperately needed to save his life. The surgery would cost more than $21,000, and school insurance would not pay for it. Lester needed at least half the money before the surgery and the rest when the surgery was done.

That's when the Friends of John Lester Trust was formed. One of the trustees of the fund is the Rev. Ted Wilde, retired pastor of the Prince of Peace Morvarian Church in Miami Gardens. The group was able to raise the first half the money in time for Lester's May 6 surgery.

Performed at the Cleveland Clinic in Weston, the surgery was a success. However, complications followed and Lester was re-hospitalized for a while. A stay in a rehab center followed.

It's been a tough few months, but when I spoke to Lester on Thursday , he was all geared up to going back to work on Monday.

``When I entered the clinic for the surgery, I was weighed in at over 900 pounds,'' Lester said. He is proud of the fact that two weeks ago, he weighed 571, almost half his original weight.

Lester, who has a doctorate in music education, said he is in awe at the way people stepped up to help him.

``It's hard to believe that people like this exist. They constantly work to meet the goal of paying the medical bills. I had the surgery on May 6, and I'm just getting home from rehab. But my goal is to start back working full-time on Monday,'' he said.

He uses a walker to assist him, but he said ``I can move much better than before I had the surgery.''

``Right now, I'm dealing with the problem of retaining fluid. But I'm going back [to school] full-time, as much as I can. That's the plan,'' Lester said.

It was Wilde who first brought Lester's plight to my attention. ``He is a genius at this teaching music,'' Wilde said. ``His pupils always rank very high in competitions.''

Wilde credits Beacon Hill's parents and staff and Lester's classmates from Miami Northwestern High School with helping him to have the surgery.

``The class of 1972 really took off on this project,'' Wilde said. They really reconnected with him. One classmate provided some of the nursing care Dr. Lester needed. Others helped in other ways. He lives in Miami Gardens with his elderly mother. The surgery was so necessary for him to get back to health''.

On Saturday, the Trust held a Back-to-School Prayer Breakfast at the El Paacio Sports Hotel as a fundraiser on Lester's behalf.

``We still have to raise the rest of the money,'' Wilde said.

If you wish to help, call Wilde, trustee of the Friends of John Lester Trust, at 305-690-0230 to donate.

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