What do you think when you see people who are extremely overweight? Are you judgmental, or do you empathize with them? Meet people who are battling obesity—and learn what it's like to walk in their shoes.
Renee, a mother of two, struggled with food all her life. By the time she was 24, she weighed 500 pounds. Despite her weight, Renee could still care for her two daughters—until a 2003 car crash left her badly injured.
For the next four years, Renee was bedbound—and her weight peaked at a dangerous 900 pounds. "I have to be helped with everything," she said. "I can brush my own teeth. Comb my hair. I have to have everything brought to me, though."
Renee said she could sit—but couldn't turn over. "My skin is very fragile," she said. "I have areas that actually leak weep fluid. I've never seen them myself; I just know they're there."
Then, Renee's doctors delivered a startling message—if she didn't lose weight, she would not live to see her 30th birthday. Renee decided it was time to undergo gastric bypass surgery. "I have two daughters, and I just want to be here to see them graduate from high school and college and get married," she said. "I want my life back for me. I want my life back for my daughters."
Renee's only hope was hard to come by—12 hospitals turned her down, saying they couldn't operate on someone her size. Desperate for help, Renee turned to the Internet. "I turned on the webcam on my laptop, and I just started talking," she said.
Her prayers were answered when Renaissance Hospital of Houston saw her plea online. The hospital specializes in gastric surgery on the morbidly obese and is a leader in the field. In 2007, Renee left her home for the first time in four years and became the heaviest woman to ever undergo gastric bypass surgery.
Her recovery started out strong. Renee started to lose weight and did exercises from her bed. Then, just 12 days after surgery, her condition took a tragic turn. "Suddenly, she had a bout of chest pain and shortness of breath, and very soon after that, the patient had a full cardiac arrest," says Dr. Bryan Lipsen. Renee passed away at 29 years old.
Renee's daughters were staying with their grandmother when they got the news. "I just wanted to sit down and die, probably in a corner crying, because I knew my mom was my best friend. And now that she's gone, it hurts," says Mirina, Renee's eldest daughter.
Two years after Renee's death, Mirina says she misses her mom. "She was everything," Mirina says. "When I'd come home from school upset, she was there. I could call her and talk to her and she'd be there for me, and we always had fun together."
Mirina says she never saw her mom's weight when she looked at her and was never embarrassed about her size. Still, she says she gets defensive when people make comments about her mom. "We had to do this project at school, and I had a picture of my mom and they hung it up on the wall," she says. "Then I heard this kid say, 'Oh my God, look how fat that lady is.' And it hurt me."
After seeing what her mother went through, Mirina says she's tried to watch her and her sister's weight—but it's not always easy. "I eat unhealthy still. I have to admit that," she says.
No matter what, Mirina says her mother never wanted to see anyone else in her position. "She wanted them to get up and exercise and walk, and I think she's getting that message out even though she's not here today."