Leah had to make a life or death decision...
Here, Leah Westwood, 42, tells the story in her own words.
S￼huffling along in the queue, I felt the eyes boring into my back.
Lining up with my 18-year-old girl Chanise to ride the Scooby Doo roller-coaster at Movieworld, I could almost hear what the strangers were thinking. How is she going to fit?
Tipping the scales at 130 kilos and a size 26-28, my own mind echoed the exact same fears.
Squeezing into the cramped carriage, I tried to pull the safety bar down. Come on! I pleaded silently, sucking in my belly.
After trying one more time to heave the bar over my bulge, the attendant looked at me kindly.
‘I’m so sorry,’ she said in a hushed voice. ‘You can’t ride today, it’s just not safe.’
I was too fat for the roller-coaster. Glancing at my girl, my cheeks hot with shame, I could tell her heart was broken.
I’d always struggled with my weight – but lately it had ballooned.
Gorging on a large meal with a side of nuggets from KFC or a juicy burger from Hungry Jack’s, my appetite was insatiable.
In turn, my blood pressure was so high docs told me I could have a stroke any time.
My knees were being crushed with each extra kilos I put on and my asthma was worse than ever.
Still, I’d secretly snack on junk in the dead of night.
Moving house a year later, I booked to see a new GP.
Calling me in, the doctor took one look at me and gave me a stern talking to. ‘You’re too fat,’ he said. ‘You’re morbidly obese.’ I didn’t even flinch.
Every other medical professional had skirted around the truth, but here it was in black and white. He’s right, I thought.
Chanise had just broken the news that I was going to be a grandma, too. I had to make a drastic change and be a positive role model for my grandchild.
Back home, I researched my options online. Gastric sleeve surgery, I read. The invasive op involved cutting away up to 90 per cent of my stomach, so that it could only hold 200ml of food and liquid.
Costing $22,500, it was more than I could afford. So I accessed my superannuation early to pay for it.
Heck, if I don’t do something now, I’m not going to be alive to spend a cent of it, anyway, I thought.
My GP referred me to an incredible surgical team that included a dietician and a psychologist. I was going to transform my body, but I also needed to change my relationship with food.
‘If you think this is the easy way out, you’re mistaken,’ the surgeon said.
As Chanise’s bump grew, I planned to get rid of mine!
For three months, I saw a shrink and a dietician. They taught me to savour food, not just gobble it.
Then, three weeks before my surgery, I had to replace my favourite fatty meals with low-calorie shakes.
Wheeled into surgery, I was terrified. What if I die on the table and never meet my grand-baby? I fretted.
Coming to afterwards, the pain was excruciating.
As I took my first sip of water, I threw it straight up, my stomach clenching with agony.
Still, the procedure was a success and I was able to go home the next day, where Chanise, now five months along, looked after me.
By the end of the first week, I’d lost five kilos. Steadily, the weight just kept slipping off.
I’d get full after a quarter cup of coffee, half a banana or a couple tablespoons of baked beans.
Holding my granddaughter April for the first time four months later, I’d lost an incredible 30 kilos. Now we have a future, I smiled.
We’d be able to go to theme parks and she could sit on my lap on the swing. It took a year, but I finally reached my goal weight – 65 kilos. I’d halved my size!
Still, when I looked in the mirror, a big girl stared back at me. And when I went shopping, I’d find myself rifling through the plus sized clothing racks.
Left with saggy skin and boobs, my tummy looked like a deflated balloon. But now I wear a size 8-10 and, more importantly, I’m far kinder to myself. Some people are judgemental about my choice to have surgery, but for me it was a life or death decision. And I chose to save my life.
‘Don’t listen to them, Leah,’ my mum, Noreen, 65, says.
Along with Chanise, she’s my biggest champion.
Recently, I showed April, now three, an old fat photo of me. ‘Who’s that?’ she asked. ‘That’s Grandma!’ I said. ‘Oh, you have different hair,’ my little angel declared. Bless her wee heart!
She’s too little to go on a roller-coaster yet, but in the meantime I’ve been back to Movieworld and ridden every single ride! For me, the sky’s the limit!
Read more in this week's issue of that's life, on sale now.