Emma Lovell, 34, Townsville Qld
Gasping for air I clutched my chest.
'Are you all right?' my husband Nathan, then 30, asked, rushing to my side. I wasn't. Just walking from our bedroom to the bathroom left me breathless. Weighing nearly 200 kilos, I was struggling to shake a recent bout of pneumonia.
'I think we should take you to the hospital,' Nathan said.
I was struggling to breathe and by the time we got there I was blue in the face. Doctors immediately hooked me up to a ventilator and I stayed there on oxygen for five days.
'I thought I was going to lose you,' Nathan said as he finally drove me home. His words echoed hauntingly in my head. I could have died.
I was only 28 but the doctors had told me my weight was putting such enormous pressure on my body, I was only likely to live another five or 10 years. My size had become a death sentence...
I'd always been big. By the time I started high school I was 100 kilos and at age 16 I was 150 kilos, but I didn't let it stop me from having fun. I still rode my pushbike eight kilometres to school each day and went swimming on the weekends. In year 10 I proudly went to the school formal despite being the biggest girl there.
My nan had always taught me to believe in myself. So when I was teased, I didn't let on how much I was hurting inside. Too self-conscious to eat in front of others, I'd get through the school day drinking cans of cola. At home, I'd tuck into meals of pasta or meat and potatoes. I tried to diet, but for every kilo I lost I gained three. By year 12 I weighed 180 kilos and was a size 28.
Soon after graduating, I met Nathan at a friend's house. He had a fantastic sense of humour and we hit it off immediately. Falling in love, we married five years later. I was still 180 kilos at the time and it was hard to find a dress to fit. So my Aunty Jen made my wedding gown. Despite my size I felt like a princess.
Nathan loved me for who I was, and being surrounded by the love of my family and friends made me feel beautiful regardless. However I'd always wanted to be a mum and in order to do so I had to lose weight. I was told I had the ovaries of a 50-year-old and that we wouldn't be considered for IVF until I was a healthy size.
After lots of research, I decided to investigate lap band surgery - a procedure that would curb my appetite by limiting the amount of food the stomach can hold. A specialist said I was a candidate for the op and my name was put on the waiting list. As the months passed, I continued to go out and have fun - enjoying fancy-dress parties and socialising. But it meant my weight crept up and up. I started avoiding the scales because I was so big they simply said 'error' when I stood on them.
It was four years before I finally got a call to say my surgery could be scheduled. During the pre-surgery check-up in April 2010, I was in for a shock. The scales registered 219.6 kilos. Seeing the number, I died a little inside. Could it really be true?
My doctor advised me that rather than having lap band surgery, I should consider a gastric bypass - a permanent procedure that makes the stomach smaller and causes food to bypass part of the small intestine. The thought of such major surgery made me nervous, but I knew it was my best chance to change.
'We can do it on May 10,' the doctor said. One month away! It had all happened so fast! My mind was in a whirl. What if something went wrong? I could only hope this was the beginning of a new life...
The op took four hours and afterwards the only sign of the surgery were five tiny marks on my torso. At first I couldn't even drink water, but after three days I could consume clear liquids and was able to go home.
It was soon obvious that everything had changed. For the first few weeks I couldn't eat anything at all. After that my portions were so tiny I bought a children's tea set to help set the sizes. It meant I lost an incredible 20 kilos in the first week. By the end of the month I was back to 180 kilos. Each month after that, my frame shrank by 10 to 20 kilos. By the end of the year I was under 100 kilos. I barely recognised myself.
No longer did I have to put the car seat all the way back to squeeze my belly in behind the steering wheel. And for the first time in my life I could cross my legs! The transformation happened so fast there were other changes in my life too.
Sadly, my marriage crumbled and Nathan and I decided to part ways as he went through his own transformation. 'I've always wanted to be a woman,' he told me after we split. So with my full support he went through a gender transformation, and we're still friends today.
Meanwhile I moved on and last year I met my boyfriend Douglas, 21, at my local poker club. By then I had dropped to 85 kilos. On the outside, life was better than ever. But as my body shrank, there was something I was still hiding...
Under my new size-14 clothes, I kept a secret. Something I didn't want anyone to see... For every kilo I lost, I was left with extra excess skin, so I now have around 20 kilos of skin I don't need - or want.
It flaps around so I can't run or workout in the gym. The most vigorous exercise I can do is walking my dogs Zina Diva and Hakuna Matata.
While I'm thrilled with my transformation, my droopy skin does bother me. It feels like bread dough and when I'm stressed I can't help but knead it. It's not sensitive, and at times I've accidentally trapped it in doors without realising.
Despite losing so much weight, I'm less confident in my body than I want to be. At the beach I wear long board shorts and I never go out without a long skirt or jeans and a jacket to cover my arms. Douglas says it doesn't bother him but I'm ashamed to show it off, even to him.
There is surgery I could have to remove it but it will involve several procedures that cost around $50,000. Sadly, that's a price I'll never be able to afford. These days, I'm trying to stay positive and recognise how far I've come.
Because I've always been big I'm still not used to my new size. I still pick up the biggest size dress on the rack, and am surprised when it slips off and falls to the floor. People who have known me all my life pass by in the street, not realising who I am.
My mum, Colleen, 55, is always saying how proud she is of me and since my surgery, she's shed a few kilos too. My younger sister Jessica, 26, has dropped 53 kilos and my aunts Sharon and Cathy are also losing weight. I'm glad my journey has been inspiring.
My life is richer now and there's so much more I can do. I'm a volunteer with the State Emergency Service (SES) -something I wasn't healthy enough to do before - and last month I went on a 10-hour hike looking for two lost little boys. Luckily they were found.
It feels incredible to be planning for the future when five years ago I wasn't sure I had one. Douglas and I are even talking about starting a family one day.
My weight has been steady at 85 kilos for a year now. There's just one last step until I'm the me I want to be!
Emma has set up a Go Fund Me page to raise money for the surgery she'd like to have on her excess skin. To help, visit www.gofundme.com/emmasweightloss
Story originally appeared in that's life! Issue 24, 2015