Twins first to undergo bariatric surgery at Howell hospital

Kerry Valentine, left, holding 11-month-old son River, listens to her twin sister Kelly Knepfler Jan. 17 as the two prepare for the following day’s bariatric surgery, in Genoa Township, Mich. (Gillis Benedict-Livingston County Daily Press & Argus via AP)

HOWELL, Mich.– One twin remembers being called “fat” in high school. Her identical sister has felt exhausted for as long as she can remember.

Together, they’re hoping 2017 is the year life changes for the better.

In late January, Kelly Knepfler and Kerry Valentine, 40, became the first patients to undergo bariatric weight loss surgery at St. Joseph Mercy Livingston Hospital in Howell.

For Kerry and Kelly, who both live in Howell, life has always felt like an up-and-down battle with the scale — and, for a time, a battle with one another.

“We didn’t get along at all when we were younger,” Kerry said as the two shared memories — and identical giggles — about hitting one another with hangers and getting locked outside in the rain because their mother was tired of the fighting.

“We were so bad my mom called the principal because she didn’t know what to do with us,” she added.

At Pinckney High School, neither participated in any extra-curricular activities; both say they “hated” the whole high school experience.

“We were teased,” Kelly said. “Well, I was. They just kept calling me fat.”

Hospital officials say the new service fills a need in Livingston County, where statistics show 30 percent of the population is struggling with obesity.

The Detroit Free Press reported that the twins grew close in adulthood, and when Kelly moved to Texas with her then-husband in 2008, the distance was difficult on both.

“That’s when I gained most of my weight,” Kelly said. “I was depressed and missed everyone. So I ate.”

It was around that time both twins got individual “Kerry & Kelly” tattoos.

“It was really hard when she was gone,” Kerry agreed. “I missed her so much.”

Meanwhile, both were also busy with motherhood and today have a total of 10 children; three belong to Kelly and Kerry has seven — including four under the age of 6.

“I wasn’t this overweight until I had him,” Kerry said, nodding toward 6-year-old Hunter. “I can’t wait to feel better. I’m tired — exhausted — all the time, and that keeps me from doing much with the kids.”

“We’re home all the time because there are so many of them,” she added, noting along with her own youngest four, she also watches Kelly’s 2-year-old daughter every day.

“I want to play with them outside, take them to do stuff and keep up with them.”