Rainer Schulz: My pilgrimage was just the beginning

August 13, 2019

Rainer Schulz of Rehoboth Beach walked 560 miles in six-and-a-half weeks. It was a very special journey, something he and his mother talked about doing many years ago – the El Camino pilgrimage in Spain.

“It is something very common for Germans and Europeans to do,” said Rainer, who was born in Germany. “I always wanted to do it but never was healthy enough to be confident I could finish it.”

The Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, also known as the Way of St. James, was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during the Middle Ages because it followed the path of the body of St. James through northern Spain to his final resting place at Santiago de Compostela.

During the trek, Rainer stayed at various inns and hostels along the route. “It was easy to tell on the road who was a pilgrim and who was just a local out walking – you could smell the difference,” he said with a chuckle.

Back in Rehoboth Beach, Rainer is proud to share his story and the way he was able to achieve this lifelong goal. “It’s simple – I would not have been able to do it without having bariatric surgery,” Rainer said. “There was no way I was ever fit enough to make the pilgrimage.”

A powerful tool for weight loss

Rainer first met Michael Sofronski, MD, following a recommendation from his primary care physician.

“I was sick and having many health issues – diabetes, blood pressure issues – and it was all because of my weight,” he said. “My doctor asked if I would consider surgery, and I said I would. Meeting Dr. Sofronski was the first step to my new life. He was incredibly passionate and honest with me. He said it would be a difficult road but that he could help me.”

“Losing weight is a struggle, but some people are unable to lose as much weight as they need to in order to be healthy,” said Dr. Sofronski. “Adults who have a body mass index of 35 or higher are considered to be potential candidates for bariatric surgery.”

Dr. Sofronski specializes in bariatric or weight-loss surgery at Beebe. He primarily performs sleeve gastrectomy surgeries where the stomach is reduced to 30 percent of its previous size. Prior to the surgery, patients keep a food journal and follow a healthy, low-fat, high-protein diet for six months. They also see a psychologist for counseling. Pre-surgery tests must be done to make sure the patient is healthy enough for surgery.

Dr. Sofronski now performs the majority of his bariatric surgeries robotically with the da Vinci Xi Surgical System at Beebe’s Center for Robotic Surgery. The surgery is minimally invasive and, in many cases, the patient is able to go home the following day.

“After surgery, I felt tired and a little sore. I was happy to be able to go home and start to recuperate,” Rainer said. “Everyone at Beebe was so supportive of me. They were encouraging and happy to talk to me about my goals.”

Once home, Rainer started the work of really using his new body to lose weight and regain his health. “The surgery is not like a magic pill. It is a tool – a powerful tool – that you are able to use to lose the weight. But you have to do the work. You have to follow the guidelines and recommendations from the doctor,” he said. “There are reasons I gained so much weight – both physical and mental – and I continue to tackle them.”

Rainer continues to see a counselor to talk about his relationship with food. He also works with a physical trainer at the Sussex Family YMCA in Rehoboth Beach where he lifts weights, does yoga, and started doing aqua aerobics. He enjoys bicycling and regularly walks his dogs for longer distances than he did in the past. He also continues to keep a food journal, especially during difficult times.

“The weight will creep back on, so if I ever get concerned or it’s an especially stressful time, I will go back to writing down everything I eat. It’s a great way to be cognizant of what you are putting in your body,” he said.

Rainer has lost 120 pounds on his journey. He lost 30 pounds prior to surgery by following Dr. Sofronski’s diet plan. Following surgery, he lost another 90 pounds. “I am happy with my success, but I want to keep going and work on building muscle and strength,” he said. “I still think of myself as a heavy person, so that mind-set will take some time to adjust as well.”

Rainer grew up in Germany and spent two years in the German air force. He moved to the United States in 1989 and worked in IT on computer systems. “I love computers and figuring out how they work and what we can do with them. My house is completely automated, and I am teaching computer classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute,” he said. “I was lucky in my career to have been offered early retirement, which I have enjoyed, but enjoy even more now with my health.”

In addition to losing weight and being more active, Rainer is also seeing an effect on his overall health. He has been able to go off some medications and reduce others. He has reduced his blood pressure medications and hopes to stop needing anxiety medication.

At 57, Rainer feels he has a new lease on life. He hopes to travel more and expects to compete in the Rehoboth Half-Marathon this fall. “When I used to travel to New York or Germany, I would buy passes for public transportation, but now I can walk everywhere, and it allows me to enjoy where I am even more,” he said. “My best advice to anyone who wants to lose weight is to be patient and kind to yourself, set realistic expectations; plan for failure but be ready to start again and again.”

Learn more about bariatric surgery at Beebe and set up a consultation by calling 302-313-2000, or go to


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