Life for obese adults isn't easy, but being an obese teenager brings its own set of challenges. While most high school seniors look forward to prom and graduation, 18-year-old Billy spent his senior year inside his parents' home.
Billy's mom, Barbara, says his weight started increasing in elementary school. "In kindergarten, he was a little chunky, and I used to tell everybody, 'Oh yeah, he's going to be my football player,'" she says.
As a teenager, Billy's weight began to affect his life at school. Barbara says he had trouble getting up and down the stairs, and his fellow students weren't always kind. "He did graduate, but he did it here at the house," Barbara says. "He just got to the point where his whole life stopped."
Over the next two years, Billy remained homebound while his weight climbed to a dangerous 800 pounds. Even trips to the bathroom became a struggle. "I just can't stay up too long because my feet start to hurt, my back starts to hurt," Billy says. "I have trouble sleeping laying down. ... So I sleep sitting up."
Barbara says she takes care of Billy's every need because he simply can't. "His day is in that bedroom watching that television, and he goes to the bathroom and he's back in his chair," Barbara says.
Barbara says she knows she's spoiling Billy by letting him eat whatever he wants. "It's hard saying no to your child when they want something to eat," she says. "It gets tiring, but everything I do for him, it's all out of love. It's what mamas do."
Barbara says the death of her first son, Matthew, has influenced how she parents Billy. "[Matthew] lived 19 months and he died. Six more years, Billy came along," she says. "I wanted to make sure he had everything that Matt didn't have or Matt didn't have the opportunity to have along the way, and I just thought that was food and that was clothes and that was toys and games."
Now, Barbara says she understands she's enabling Billy. "God knows if I had it to do over again, I would love him just as much, but I would change everything," she says. "Our eating habits would be where I start, number one. And I would make sure that junior went to summer camp and that he was active in all types of sports."
Doctors warned Billy's parents that if drastic measures weren't taken, their son wouldn't live to see his 20th birthday. Together, they decided he needed surgery to remove the front part of his stomach—nearly 70 pounds of his abdomen. "This operation is aimed to improve his posture and his ability to walk and breathe," Dr. Younan Nowzaradanno says.
When Billy arrived at the hospital, doctors found that his heart and lungs were overworked. Before they could operate, Billy had to spend 30 days in the hospital on a strict diet .
Billy came through the surgery, but the next 72 hours were critical. Things turned serious when doctors discover a blood clot developed in Billy's leg. Doctors must operate again to prevent it from traveling to his heart or lungs. "This has been a big old emotional roller coaster," Barbara says. "He's what I live and breathe for. And if he dies, I'd just jump in the coffin with him."
The surgery to remove Billy's blood clot was successful. After recovering from his blood clot removal, Billy had gastric sleeve surgery, which removed 80 percent of his stomach. So far, Billy's lost 300 pounds!
Billy says his life has completely changed—he's moving easier and eating better. "Getting up and down out of small places is easy. I can fit into a truck easily," he says. "I eat completely different. I get up and move around. I don't eat takeout, fatty foods, none of that."
Billy says he doesn't blame anyone but himself for his situation. "I took [the food] in my hand and I ate it," he says. "No one ever forced it down my throat. I ate it willingly."
Billy says he hopes other people will learn from his story. "When you see people in a situation like that, a lot of people snicker and make judgments. Don't judge a person by that, because there's a lot of roads that lead to where I was," he says. "[If you're] making them feel bad about themselves and making fun of them, you're just making them feel horrible. [It] never, never makes the situation any better."
Bariatric physician Dr. Denise Bruner says obesity is a disease with many layers—and one that many doctors haven't been trained to deal with. "It involves genetics. It involves psychological issues. It involves chemical issues. It involves hormonal issues," she says.
The biggest misconceptions about obesity, Dr. Bruner says, often come from unfair judgments. "People think: 'You're lazy. [If] you just shut your mouth and stop eating, and you won't have this problem.' They think they're stupid, uneducated. They lack willpower," she says. "It's so far from the truth."
What doctors do know about obesity, however, is that it can leave a dangerous legacy for your family. "When we see a parent, an obese parent, the child is 40 percent more likely to be obese. When you see two parents being obese, the child has an 80 percent chance of being obese," Dr. Bruner says. "We have to have treatment, but let's work on prevention also."