Life has never been easy for Ashlee Montgomery.
"The first memories that I have of school are of kids calling me names and stuff cause I was the little chubby girl," she told CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers.
That chubby little girl grew into a heavy pre-teen. By 17 she was considered super-obese at 409 pounds — and her health was failing.
"Sometimes my heart aches in my chest and I have arm pains and stuff and it just gets scary," she said.
She tried different diets like Weight Watchers, the Atkins diet and the South Beach Diet. Nothing worked. Ashlee's problem was much bigger than what she ate — she was genetically predisposed to obesity. Three years ago her father, Dave, topped 400 pounds before he had gastric bypass surgery and lost half his weight.
"It's changed my life," he said. "I mean I've gone from pretty much just being in the house to where I have a life now."
Ashlee has wanted a new life, too. The gifted singer and poet, who has loving friends and family, knew there was a thinner, healthier Ashlee inside, waiting to get out.
"This body almost is a prison to me and I really don't want to be in prison anymore," Ashlee said.
So she joined the growing number of teenagers going under the knife — a number that jumped from just 161 in 1998 to more than four times that in 2003. If the pace keeps up with overall trends, more than a thousand will undergo gastric bypass surgery this year. And because one-fifth of America's children are overweight or obese, the trend could continue to grow.
On the day of her surgery, Ashlee was nervous but ready.
"I'm excited about getting through the next couple weeks and then becoming the person I know I can be," she said.
Her sister Amanda said she hopes Ashlee will get "everything she deserves" from the surgery as she choked back tears.
Ashlee's surgeon, Dr. Constantine Frantzides, is a pioneer in teen gastric bypass. He was the first in Illinois to perform the procedure. Many doctors choose not to because possible long-term complications with teens are still unknown.
"Is there enough scientific data to tell us this is the best to do?" he said. "No. Is there gonna be in the near future? Most probably! More surgeons now say, 'Yes, this is the way to go.' "
The laparoscopic surgery creates a golf-ball-sized pouch from Ashlee's football-sized stomach. The new pouch is attached directly to the intestine bypassing the large stomach.
Ashlee's surgery was a success. One month later, for the first time in Ashlee's life, she looked forward to stepping on the scale. It turned out that she had lost 50 pounds, nearly 12 pounds a week.
"I wanted to jump up and down but I was afraid that the scale would break," she said.
Finally, she said she was able to see her feet.
"I haven't done that in a very long time so I looked down the other day and I said, 'My feet,' " Ashlee said. "They're pretty."
Her relationship with food may be changed forever, but she's OK with that. Ashlee's just waiting for her outer beauty to catch up to her inner beauty, one tiny bite at a time.
Learn more about gastric bypass surgery visit LapObesitySurgery.comand ObesityHelp.com.
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