A woman who bought two plane seats as she feared getting stuck, has lost an incredible 19 stone 4lb thanks to gastric bypass surgery.
Haleigh Walsh, 25, once tipped the scales at 32st 6lb and said she had a a lifetime struggle with weight. But thanks to the surgery she now weighs 13st size 12 and is feeling “really confident”, reports WalesOnline.
The final stage on Haleigh’s weight loss journey is to have her loose skin – or “fatty apron” as she calls it – removed. The beautician, had the £5,450 gastric bypass surgery in Lithuania and is returning there for the skin removal.
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Haleigh said she had struggled with her weight all her life and needed a tailor made communion gown, aged seven, as she was already too big for ‘off the peg’ versions. But the beautician forged ahead with her dreams and opened a beauty salon in the Irish county of Tipperary in 2020.
But, horribly conscious of her size 28 frame, despite being complimented on her “pretty face,” Haleigh recalls her turning point on a July 2019 holiday to Portugal. She said: “I’d tried every diet under the sun and an old friend told me a horror story of a man who’d been so big he was marched out of his seat to the back of the plane.
“I was so terrified of that happening to me that I bought a second seat, so I wouldn’t be impacting anyone. I remember sitting there on the plane and thinking, ‘I am never doing this again’.”
At her 32st 6lb heaviest, 5ft 7in Haleigh’s body mass index (BMI) was 71.11. That was nearly triple the top of the NHS’ healthy range of between 18.5 to 24.9, meaning she was severely obese. She said: “I was always overweight. I couldn’t get a communion dress in the shops.
“It had to be specially made for me. That’s one of the earliest memories I have. I ate big portions and am shocked now looking back at just how much I could get through. I’d starve all day then have takeaways, share bags of crisps, chocolates, anything I wanted. And I refused to exercise. Even walking would cause pain in my back.
“I always got compliments. People would tell me I had a beautiful face. But I knew my weight was a problem.”
Haleigh knew her eating habits were dramatically unhealthy, but lacked the drive to lose weight and keep it off. So, when a relative had successful weight loss surgery, her interest was piqued.
She said: “I saw how much their body had changed since the procedure. Then I was doing a woman’s make-up for her 40th birthday and she explained that she’d been waiting for a gastric bypass in Ireland for nine years. I realised that I wanted to do it too, but didn’t want to waste my 20s waiting for the operation and began researching private clinics.”
Just as she was considering bariatric surgery, she boarded her life-changing flight to Portugal, which gave her the push she needed to contact the clinic in Lithuania on her return. Just a month after the holiday in August 2019, Haleigh applied to the Nordbariatric Clinic in Kaunas, Lithuania, for a gastric bypass operation.
However, Haleigh was told she first needed to lose more than 3st before the op could go ahead to make the operation less risky. Finally, in July 2020, having brought her weight down to 29st 2lb with a primarily liquid diet, she had a £5,450 gastric bypass.
The procedure to create a small pouch at the top of the stomach connected to the small intestines makes patients feel fuller after eating less food and means they absorb fewer calories.
Now delighted to be a 13st 2lb size 12, Haleigh said: “I wasn’t nervous at all about the operation. Even when the surgeon came to see me, I didn’t have any questions. I felt so confident after watching the surgery being done on the clinic’s Facebook page and reading testimonials about it.
“The surgeon performed 12 procedures in the two days I was in the clinic. He was so experienced that I knew I was in safe hands.”
Luckily, Haleigh did not have any medical conditions related to her obesity, so her procedure went without a hitch. After taking some liquid paracetamol, she felt able to drink water on the day of surgery, before moving on to yoghurt and baby food the next day.
Two days after her operation, she was allowed back to her accommodation and, just a week later, she returned to Ireland – already 20lb slimmer than she had been on the flight out. Within months, Haleigh had lost sufficient weight to begin cardio exercise at home.
And last summer, she joined a gym and added weight training to her workouts. The only drawback is that her rapid weight loss has left her with apron-like, loose excess skin on her stomach, back, legs and arms.
She said: “Since I’ve been training properly in the gym, I’ve really noticed how bad my loose skin is. I just want it off me now. My body is toning up underneath, but then I have these great folds and flaps of skin.
“It’s my arms that are the worst. I’m really confident with my size and shape, but still have to have something covering my arms at all times as they bother me so much.”
Determined to look and feel her best, Haleigh is investing around £6,000 in further surgery at the same clinic in October to remove the baggy skin.
She said: “I just have so much more confidence now. I love going for walks and out on adventures.
“Before all this I couldn’t even walk down the road without getting out of breath or my back hurting. Now I love taking exercise. I’m the complete opposite of what I was.”