By Dan Merica
WASHINGTON (CNN) — A few months after turning 50 years old, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie secretly underwent lap-band surgery in February for the sake of his wife and kids, a source close to the governor confirmed to CNN.
Christie told the New York Post, which first reported the story early Tuesday morning, that the invasive procedure came after his family and friends urged him to start improving his health.
“I’ve struggled with this issue for 20 years,” he said. “For me, this is about turning 50 and looking at my children and wanting to be there for them.”
Christie had the 40 minute long surgery on Saturday, February 16, a source close to Christie tells CNN Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper, and was back to work by the following Tuesday.
His concerns over the “minimally invasive procedure,” according to the source, were allayed by the fact that Dr. George Fielding would be operating on him. Fielding has done the procedure many times and even had the surgery himself, the source told Tapper, anchor of CNN’s “The Lead.”
Although Christie has lost some weight, the source said, the governor is “not doing any victory laps” and knows this is just the beginning of the weight loss process.
In an interview with the Post, Christie says his surgery was solely for his children and wife, but almost anything the Republican governor does is seen through the lens of a possible presidential run in 2016. Christie, in an interview with the Post, attempted to squash any speculation.
“It’s so much more important than that,” Christie said. “I know it sounds crazy to say that running for president is minor, but in the grand scheme of things, it was looking at Mary Pat and the kids and going, ‘I have to do this for them, even if I don’t give a crap about myself.'”
A “tight circle” of top staff knew about the procedure, a source close to the governor told CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger.
“They were the right people; he had to make sure a small circle knew. But it was mostly family who knew,” the source said, adding the the catalyst was Christie’s 50th birthday.
“He had been thinking about it for a while, and working on it (weight loss)” through diet and exercise, the source said. And while the source can’t discount the presidential considerations entirely, the source added “this was more about his kids and his family.”
Are there any potential downsides?
“Everyone will be watching” as every pound does (or does not) come off, the source said. The upside is that it “humanizes him.”
“(The) struggle is something he can talk about,” the source added, also noting that when Christie attended the George W. Bush Presidential Center dedication ceremony last month, some noticed he had shed some pounds.
Christie’s weight has been an issue of fodder for comedians and journalists alike, but primarily because the governor is regularly self-deprecating about the issue.
Earlier this year, while comedian David Letterman was offering a lengthy apology to the governor for all of the weight jokes he had made on his late night comedy show, Christie played along by reaching into his pocket and grabbing a donut.
“I didn’t know this was going to take so long,” Christie said to the laughing audience. He continued to joke about his weight during the interview, telling Letterman that he is “basically the healthiest fat guy you’ve ever seen in your life.”
In response to the bit, a former White House doctor told CNN National Political Correspondent Jim Acosta that she “winced” at the routine and questioned whether Christie’s weight would hold him back on a presidential run.
“I’m worried he may have a heart attack. I’m worried he may have a stroke,” former White House physician Connie Mariano, M.D. said in the interview. “It’s almost a like a time bomb waiting to happen unless he addresses those issues before running for office.”
Mariano, who served nine years as a doctor in the White House medical unit said Christie’s obesity would certainly become an issue should he run for the presidency in 2016. She warned a future President Christie could suffer from potentially deadly complications from diabetes, sleep apnea, and heart disease.
In response, Christie said unless Mariano has given him a physical exam, “she should shut up.”
“The idea that somehow, you know, I don’t care about this — of course I care about it. And I am making the best effort I can,” Christie said at a press conference before he had the surgery in February.
“In terms of people in the state being concerned about whether or not it prevents me from being able to do my job effectively, I think they’ve seen the results of that,” Christie said.
Christie’s weight was in issue in his 2009 run for governor, when he defeated Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine. Christie’s girth was portrayed unflatteringly in campaign ads by Corzine’s campaign. But Christie’s weight has not been an issue as he runs this year for re-election to a second term. A Quinnipiac University poll of New Jersey voters conducted in March indicated that 68% of Garden State voters were comfortable with an overweight candidate, with just 17% holding reservations.
Lap-band surgery entails a doctor fitting a band around the stomach in order to make the organ smaller. It helps people lose weight because as someone eats, the smaller stomach feels fuller faster, thereby cutting down on the amount of food someone consumes. As the lap-band recipient loses weight, doctors can add saline to the band to shrink the stomach even more.
The surgery is considered a less dangerous alternative to gastric bypass, where a doctor shrinks the size of a stomach by dividing the stomach into two using staples.
In July 2012, Christie told ABC that gastric bypass was “too risky” of a surgery for him.
CNN Political Editor Paul Steinhauser contributed to this story.
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