Jewish World Review
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (KRT) CRESTON, Ohio Tim Dockery walked into a Wal-Mart last year and bought a yellow shirt - a monster achievement for a man who was virtually homebound when he tipped the scale at 537 pounds.
Since shedding an amazing 300 pounds, he's got his life back.
``I can pretty much do what I want to do now,'' said Dockery, 47, in his neat ranch home in northern Wayne County. ``I'd rather die than go back to the way I was.''
Few people are as morbidly obese as Dockery was.
``It's so rare that it wouldn't pop up in our data'' from surveys, said Jeff Lancashire of the National Center for Health Statistics.
That he was able to turn the situation around is even more remarkable, said Emma Carol Ellis, a spokesperson for the Creston chapter of Take Off Pounds Sensibly, or TOPS, a weight-loss support group that Dockery joined last year.
``He's worked so hard and he's done it the healthy way,'' Ellis said. ``Did you see the sweat marks on his treadmill?''
Dockery has waged his battle of the bulge since he started to gain weight as a teen. By the time he graduated from Cloverleaf High in 1974, he weighed 240 pounds. When he got married a year later, his weight was up to 280 pounds.
Then fast food and huge, Southern-style dinners of fried chicken and gravy became a staple for Dockery and his new wife, Pat.
``Both sets of our parents are from the South,'' he recalled, ``and everything was served with a side order of grease.''
It didn't help that he smoked more than a pack of cigarettes a day and had sleep apnea, a medical condition in which sufferers stop breathing, sometimes hundreds of times, in their sleep, impairing their health.
Dockery went on diet after diet, one time shelling out $500 for a food supplement. But he always gained the weight back.
When he hit his top weight of 537 pounds in 1995, he was sick, plagued by pneumonia, a blood infection, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and more. He had a temporary tracheotomy - a surgical slit in his windpipe - to help him breathe.
This was his own personal Dark Ages, he said.
He was in and out of hospitals 10 times. All told, his medical insurer paid $338,000 for his weight-related problems, according to his records.
He went on disability from his job as a quality control technician at a Medina, Ohio, company.
He took 18 pills a day and supplemental oxygen. He was barely able to stand, unable to maneuver without a walker, he said.
Two to three times a day, he had to suction mucus out of his trachea - a disgusting job made even worse when he got a cold. Showers were out of the question. For years, he subsisted on sponge baths administered by his supremely understanding wife, a letter carrier for the Brunswick, Ohio, post office.
Restaurants - forget them. He hated the stares and whispers. If he did decide to try one, he'd send his wife in first to check out the chairs. Were they sturdy? Did they have arms?
``My self-esteem was completely gone,'' he said. ``I was never suicidal, but I never really cared if I lived or if I died. I thought everyone would be better off if I was out of the picture.''
But being so sick had its advantages. When he was in the hospital, his diet was severely restricted and he lost weight by force. And he got sick of being sick.
``I decided I had to take responsibility for myself,'' he said.
He resisted the suggestion to have bariatric surgery to reduce his stomach size. He wanted to lose weight the natural way. With a newfound iron will, he began to watch what he ate. Eventually his weight went down and he shed his size 5X clothes in varying shades of blue and black for slimmer, more colorful clothing.
In 2002, he took a huge step forward, literally, with a modest exercise program - walking one minute at a time at the slowest speed on the treadmill that had long gathered dust in his wife's sewing room. It was all he could endure.
By last year, he had shed a remarkable 150 pounds. He might have stayed that way forever if it weren't for his wife.
When she found herself buying size 18 clothes, she joined a local TOPS chapter to lose 60 pounds. She pestered her husband to come with her. Eventually, he got over the grim vision of being with a bunch of ``gabby'' women and agreed. He remembers the date of his first meeting - April 28 - as he credits the group for helping him from that point onward.
He found himself alone in one sense - there was only one other man in the club of about 20.
That's typical of all TOPS chapters, said Linda Gordon of Strasburg, who oversees 131 area TOPS clubs. About 80 percent of members are women, perhaps attracted by the club's homey blend of support, contests and prizes like charms and silk flowers.
But that emphasis didn't deter the slightly graying, well-spoken Dockery. Instead, it proved to be the incentive for him to drop 150 more pounds.
He took TOPS' advice and began to write down every morsel of food that goes into his mouth. At 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day, it isn't much. A typical lunch is pretzels, grapes and olives. Once a week, he splurges on a small bag of peanuts - calorie count, 320.
He upped his time on the treadmill. Since he isn't working, he can afford to walk 2 ½ hours a day, six days a week to the music of Steely Dan or Van Halen. He has a set pattern - so many minutes on this speed, so many on that, all carefully noted on a yellow legal pad.
``I've become very regimented,'' he said.
He began shooting monthly photos of himself. When he eventually dropped beneath his marriage weight of 280 pounds, his wife found she had a new man on her arm. ``Now I've got the husband I never had,'' she said.
Perhaps more important, he kept up the regimen. He's been so determined to lose weight that he almost always does. Only last month, when his doctor reversed his tracheotomy and he couldn't exercise for a few weeks, did he gain weight - 10 pounds, to be exact, and he has since lost 9 ½ of them.
TOPS' private weigh-ins have become a source of pride.
``You're the man,'' he remembers the weight recorder saying as he shed pound after pound.
When he lost 100 pounds, they threw him a party. When he had his tracheotomy reversed, they caroled at his house.
``We believe in enthusiasm,'' said TOPS' Ellis. ``If you don't make things interesting, people won't want to come.''
As Dockery's waist shrank from 66 to 42 inches, a new world opened up.
In July, he mowed his lawn for the first time in 15 years. On Aug. 3 - again, he remembers the date - he put on his wedding ring for the first time in years.
He went Christmas shopping in December, bedazzled by Westfield Shoppingtown SouthPark in Strongsville, Ohio, the first time he'd been to a mall in almost 20 years.
He's taking a public speaking course to refine his skills. He wants to talk to groups about his long journey from fat to reasonably fit, although he still has another 25 pounds to go to reach his doctor's original goal.
Now his biggest problem is one he loves to talk about - having to buy new clothes all the time to keep up with his shrinking girth. That tab has come to $1,000 since May, and he's not done yet.
``Start today,'' he advises others who are overweight. ``Just begin.''
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