When 'Fat School' Failed Him

Jahcobie Cosom tried the usual diet plans. He lost weight -- for a time -- at a school focused on weight loss. But now, he weighs more than 500 pounds. His next planned stop is gastric bypass surgery.
By Sandra G. Boodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 20, 2008

By the time he was featured on a segment of "Extreme Makeover" in July 2007, which aired months after it was filmed, Jahcobie Cosom was well on his way to regaining the 197 pounds he had lost in less than a year -- and adding almost 80 more.

Jahcobie, now 18 and a senior at Boston Arts Academy, a public high school for the performing arts, was enrolled at Wellspring's California campus between October 2005 and June 2006.

He lost 167 pounds there, 30 more his first month home and then began putting the weight right back on. In less than a year Jahcobie, who stands a bit over 5 feet 9, ballooned to 562 pounds; he entered Wellspring weighing 483.

"He started off okay, but I guess he just figured he didn't have to do [at home] what he was doing" at school, said his father, Larry Cosom, who added that his only son's weight gain has been a source of significant tension between them.

Two years ago, Larry Cosom took out a $40,000 loan to pay Jahcobie's boarding school tuition. But last fall Cosom lost his job, and he said he doesn't know how he will repay the debt. He said he has told Jahcobie he has no money to give him for art college in the fall.

"It's a lot of wasted money, but what can you do?" Larry Cosom asked. "I wish we'd had a better game plan when he came home."

School officials declined to discuss Jahcobie's case, citing confidentiality. Daniel Kirschenbaum, clinical director of Wellspring, said that sustaining weight loss once students go home is challenging, "and you have to have all your ducks lined up."

Wellspring, which sponsors weekend programs for parents that are designed to facilitate reentry at home, allowed Jahcobie to return free of charge last year; he stayed less than a month and left by mutual agreement.

Jahcobie attributes his weight gain to several factors: his impoverished Dorchester neighborhood, which is awash in fast food; the high cost of low-fat items; cultural differences in food preferences; and the comfort he derived from eating after several friends died suddenly.

He said he thinks attending Wellspring "hurt me more mentally" because he feels ashamed and responsible for his family's financial straits.

"I wish I'd never heard of the place," he added.

In a last-ditch effort to control his weight, Jahcobie is scheduled to undergo gastric bypass surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital in July. But he has been told he must lose weight before doctors can operate.

Cosom said he and Jahcobie's stepmother have come to the realization that there is no other way to control his son's eating.

Jahcobie is optimistic the stomach-shrinking operation will be the solution that has eluded him. Boarding school, he said, "might be good for kids who need to lose 30 to 40 pounds, but not for someone like me."

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