Patient Care Supervisor, St. Joseph’s Hospital, Milwaukee WI
To many of the people who know him or at least see him, Ernest Colburn appears to be half the man he used to be…physically. Ernest would tell you that he is twice the man he once was spiritually…emotionally.
It wasn’t always that way for Ernest, the emergency room supervisor at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Milwaukee. Having lost nearly 200 pounds was half the battle. The other half of the battle was learning to cooperate with people he hardly knew. He had to learn to trust and to believe in himself.
After learning those difficult lessons, it was easy to go about the work of making a difference in the lives of the people, particularly the patients he meets every day. Oftentimes, those people are the young men and boys who enter the emergency room at the hospital. They are battered, beaten and some, many, are wounded by gunshots. Some are sick with chronic illnesses that have gone unattended for far too long. Whatever the reason that they seek care, Ernest is there to comfort and school them.
He talks with them – openly and candidly. These are the types of conversations that many of these men and boys have never had before meeting Ernest; before their lives were hanging in the balance. It’s at these crossroads that a man’s vulnerability can be exploited – for a good cause. Ernest has seen enough men and boys on the brink to know when to push and when to let them rest. He knows he has a captive audience, unfortunately.
Ernest shares with them his own personal experiences – those things that changed his life. It is in those teachable moments that ears and eyes open. A hardened heart is difficult to heal. It’s uncanny how a hardened heart softens when one’s life is on the line.
Ernest teaches them what he knows – that they must lose the weight; eliminate the stressors in their lives that may have brought them to the ER; they have to learn to cooperate with him as a nurse and the doctors in the short term; and with the people in their lives who love and depend on them.
The toughest lesson they must learn is the same lesson that Ernest had to learn: that they have to trust and believe in themselves or they will never be free of the burdens that brought them to him in the first place.
Original Health Profile
“Doing a 180” is an expression some people use to indicate a complete reversal in the direction of their lives.
In the case of our New Face, Ernest Colburn, this holds true metaphorically and literally.
You see, Ernest is making a remarkable transformation from excessively and even dangerously obese, to a man determined to change his life and live without the bondage that being overweight can be.
His is a fascinating and inspiring story for those struggling with weight issues.
Ernest’s six foot-two inch fame couldn’t support his body weight, nor could his internal organs, as many began to fail him.
With health concerns mounting, his doctors advised him that there was only one way for him to emerge from the constant bouts of illness he was confronting – he had to lose weight.
Now he would have to heed the lessons he teaches. He had to become the role model for all of those patients who were loathe to take guidance from him. The admonishments usually reserved for the sick people he treats daily, would now become the advice that he had to live by.
And that he did, Ernest dropped more than 180 pounds in less than a year. He’ll tell you he’s got a few more to go to reach his ideal weight. But with his determination there is no doubt he’ll make it.
Oh, and did I mention this man’s faith? Ernest is a devout Christian. I think of him as “The Minister of Health”. His down home demeanor and preacher-like ways appeal to those he encounters. His hope is that more of his patients and everyone would just take more control of their own health; learn more - do better.
To achieve that goal, for the second year, Ernest has led a team from St. Joseph’s Hospital in organizing a huge undertaking – the Unity in the Community Health Fair. In a city of festivals, this one has special meaning. Yes, there will be music, Ernest will have it no other way, he’s a singer himself, but putting on his healthcare hat, there will be a 2-mile walk; free health screenings and a healthy food buffet. (See our Healthy Happenings for more information.)
Ernest understands the importance of living healthy. It hasn’t always been that way, but today, he gets it. He’s doing his part to make sure everyone else gets it too.