‘I was dying but my wains saved my life’

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A seventh heart scare hospital admission in 16 months was the turning point in Damien McLaughlin’s life.

Doctors told him his flab was killing him and he was left in little doubt that he’d be dead before long if he continued his lifestyle of enjoying junk food and inactivity. Weighing 24 stone, the morbidly obese 39 year-old was taking 13 tablets a day for various health conditions including heart failure, fluid retention and asthma.

When his children Damien (21) and Danielle (20) bought him membership for a local gym, he realised that he had to undertake a very long and gruelling journey. He faced a stark reality: try or die.

“My wains saved my life - they bought me gym membership for the [Templemore Sports] Complex for Fathers Day in 2010. That changed my life, saved my life, my difficult journey began then.”

He had initially been offered NHS weight loss surgery involving the fitting of a gastric band but declined, bravely vowing instead to beat the bulge all by himself.

“The way I saw it was I put it there so I’ll take it off,” he told the ‘Journal’.

Damien’s blood and guts efforts over the next year or so were nothing short of incredible and will no doubt be seen as an inspiration by many others trying to transform their lives for the better. Spurred on by family and friends, the now 41 year old lost an incredible 13.5 stone in just 13 months. Such was the amount of body fat he cast off, he even dropped three shoe sizes and shrunk by more than two inches.

Damien felt he faced an impossible task on his first trip to the gym. “Even walking up the stairs to the entrance was exhausting. Now I run 13 or 14 miles, cycle 40 to 50 miles or swim over a mile in a session, six days a week.

“When I first went on the treadmill my thighs rubbed against the arms as I walked - I was that big. On the first day I stopped after about 15 minutes walking and said to my son Damien ‘I can’t do this’. He encouraged me to go on and I did. As I continued I thought I was going to die but I knew that I would definitely die if I didn’t do it.

“From then on I always took a picture of my children with me and when I started to struggle I’d look at the picture for inspiration to go on, grit my teeth and get on with it. In the end I got my life back and they got their daddy back, now I can do all the active things with them that I couldn’t before.”

In his first five weeks of exercise, Damien shed one stone ten pounds and that progress spurred him on. “As soon as I saw it moving, I went hell for leather - that was the spark I needed.”

Damien’s home life had become a vicious circle of eating junk food and sitting in front of the tv. “When I went home at night I just stayed in, it was like being a prisoner in my own home. Sometimes my wife Linda would suggest we go out and we’d go the Millennium Forum or somewhere but if I couldn’t find an aisle seat, we’d just go home because I didn’t want to wreck someone else’s evening by sitting beside them.” For the same reason, Damien also tried to avoid flying at all costs

For years he believed he’d never shift the weight and so he didn’t bother to try.

“It was a culmination of years of eating junk food, drinking alcohol and doing no exercise at all - it was years of self abuse, I totally abused my body. Now I hate fast food, I can’t face it, it’s horrible and I feel all the better without it.”

Damien is in little doubt that had he continued with his lifestyle he would not be alive today. “Heart failure had set in, I had been in hospital seven times in a 16 months period and the last time I was in I was told by doctors that they didn’t know if I’d survive. I was on 13 tablets a day and was offered gastric band surgery to help curb my eating to cut my weight. I refused the NHS surgery, which would also have automatically qualified me to have excess skin removed and decided to lose the weight myself. Now my heart failure has gone, fluid retention is gone, the need for all the tablets is gone, even the asthma I had since I was seven years old is gone - the only thing I’m left with is this sickening skin.”

Damien has written to Health Minister Edwin Poots to intervene on his behalf after he was refused body lift surgery to remove the sagging skin left behind by his amazing transformation. The appeal came just days after the minister launched a 10 year, £7m strategy to tackle obesity recently.

He’s already saved NHS money by refusing gastric band surgery but can’t foot the £20,000 body lift surgery bill himself. He believes the decision to deny him the plastic surgery after he lost weight without NHS assistance sends out the wrong message. “People are not given the incentive to lose weight themselves. The way I saw it, I put the weight on so it was up to me to take it off. I did it, but now I’m totally unsightly - I have bags of skin hanging off my body. I’ve toned it as much as I can but it’s still shocking for people,” he told the ‘Journal’.

These days Damien is “living life to the full”. He’s keen to stress that “no money can buy” the feel good factor he experiences each day when he leaves the gym. And he’ll never forget the support and inspiration he received not only from his family but from friends and staff at Templemore Sports Complex. Damien is particularly grateful to fitness instructor Paul Carlin who designed a training programme to help him fight the flab. “I couldn’t have done it without Paul Carlin who pushed me along and the other staff at the complex for all their support and encouragement.”

Damien whole family have now got the fitness bug and they enjoy exercise together when they can.

Damien’s message to others imprisoned by obesity is to believe they fight their way to fitness with self determination. “Grit your teeth and do it. If you keep at it, it becomes routine and will change your life for the better.”

General diet transformation

Before

Breakfast: Sausage/bacon/egg bap and sticky bun.

Lunch: Fast Food (chicken box/sausage supper/ships peas gravy etc)

Dinner: Fast food or Chinese takeaway

Supper: Toast (white bread)

After

Breakfast: Wheetabix/porridge, wholegrain bread/orange juice

Mid morning snack: Yogurt and fresh fruit

Lunch: Main meal of whole foods including vegetables and non processed meat

Mid evening: Yogurt and fresh fruit

Tea time: Tuna pasta/salad sandwich on wholegrain bread with homemade vegetable soup/scrambled eggs