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Los Angeles Times profiles Billi Gordon

Published 8:15am Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dr. Wilbert Anthony Gordon Jr., a 1972 Dowagiac Union High School graduate who earned his doctorate in integrative behavioral neuroscience five years ago on Nov. 1, 2004, is profiled in the Los Angeles Times.

“Billi Gordon is 6 feet 1 and weighed 701 pounds when he was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center last month,” the Times article by Carla Hall states, quoting Gordon, 55: “Do you know how hard it is to go from being a legendary diva to being a brain doctor?”
“As he sat on his bed, even a hospital gown that fell below his knees could not hide the mysterious mass that has been growing for several years from his upper right thigh. It now spreads between his legs, almost to his feet. It is a saddlebag of skin, smooth in places, dimpled in others.”

“Otherwise, I have beautiful legs,” he said.

As Gordon has widened, his life has narrowed.

By the end of the summer, he couldn’t fit into his red Mustang convertible. Scrubs were the only street clothes he could wear. He was too heavy even for weight-loss surgery.
He has been in and out of the hospital since late spring.

His longest stay began in mid-August and lasted a month.

Two days after he was released in September, he buckled at the knees and fell to the floor from the weight of the growth.

Gordon’s size makes everything more complicated – even diagnosing his ailments. Whether the growth was a cancerous tumor (unlikely) or a glut of swollen soft tissue caused by poor lymphatic flow (probable), Gordon needed an MRI.

But no MRI machine at Cedars – or any other hospital his doctors could locate – would hold him. The maximum weight limit of the largest MRI machine is 550 pounds.

Gordon began dieting to prepare for the likelihood of high-risk surgeries to remove the mass.
“About this growth on my leg – I’m grateful I have it,” he told the newspaper. “And I’ll tell you why. Because it has taught me humility, and it’s taught me gratitude for things I otherwise took for granted – sitting in my car or walking down the street.”

The Times reports, “Gordon can outline in meticulous detail all the factors he believes have played a part in his weight struggle – a thyroid problem, stress, depression, a bad reaction to beta blockers, even the fact his late mother was bipolar.

“Bipolar disorder in the next generation appears as a metabolic disorder where people go from being hyperkinetic to being overly sedentary,” Gordon said.

He once made a nice living off his feminine features.

With his soft face and bosomy chest, he slipped easily into drag, posing for humorous greeting cards and playing loud-talking, imperious women for comic relief.

In drag, he had a small role in an episode of “Married With Children” and appeared in the Eddie Murphy comedy “Coming to America.”

As a writer, he penned an episode of the late-’80s sitcom “227″ and several humor books.
Gordon grew up in Dowagiac a “happy fat boy,” weighing around 300 pounds in high school.

His Web site,, contains a section that pays tribute to his teachers, from Patrick Hamilton Elementary School to Union High.

He reminisces about second grade teacher Mary White, third grade teacher Gwen Mann, who taught students to play the flutophone, fourth grade teacher Pat Flewelling, middle school science teacher Karen Pugh, DUHS English teacher and wrestling coach John Lewis and DUHS chemistry and tennis coach Martin Hammon.

After graduating, Gordon entered the seminary. After one semester it was agreed he had a calling – but not for religion. He transferred to the University of Michigan.

In the mid-’90s, he finished the course work for his bachelor’s degree at Michigan.

He also returned to being a man – womanly primping, he jokes, took too much time away from studying – and went on to earn a doctorate from Union Institute and University, a non-traditional school geared toward adult, working students doing independent study.

Gordon became a researcher at the UCLA Center for Research, Education, Training and Strategic Communication on Minority Health Disparities. He did most of the work from home on his computer. When the grant that paid him ran out, jobs available at UCLA would have required his presence on campus – an impossibility, he says.

Gordon’s doctors tried to find ways to shrink the growth without surgery. They even looked into liposuction. But ultrasound images – the best they can get without an MRI – indicate the mass is a patchwork of tissue and fluid that can’t be drained, according to the Times.

Twelve days after returning to Cedars in September, Gordon had dropped almost 100 pounds.

After two days home, he weighed 583.

Last week he replaced the liquid diet with a regimen of lean protein, fruits and vegetables. He can walk again now.

Last Thursday, Gordon weighed 532 pounds.

On Saturday, he fit into his car.

He texted, “Triumph city!!”

Then he drove to the beach.

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