"I didn't want to die."
That was Karen Ramey's motivation. In January 2008, she could not walk more than five steps without stopping to catch her breath, heart racing. Ramey weighed 378 pounds, and realized her obesity had become a life-or-death situation. She had one more chance, and she made a decision to change.
Now, nearly five years later, Ramey, 44, is literally half the person she used to be. As of last week, she had lost 228 pounds, and is now just nine pounds shy of her goal weight of 141 pounds.
"I can actually wear my sister's clothes," Ramey said, wearing a big smile and an air of confidence her own sister had never seen in her before. "That's something I never thought I'd be able to do."
Growing up obese
Ramey found out recently that she has Williams Syndrome, a genetic condition that accounted for her slow development through childhood. It's something her family didn't know about when she was growing up, but she was actually relieved when she was diagnosed because it explains so much about her life.
"My sisters went to regular school, and I went to special classes," Ramey said. "I always knew I was different, but I didn't know why."
She developed slower than the other children, and often had trouble making friends. She was sad much of the time, and said her mother comforted her with food.
Ramey was an obese teen, and her obesity plagued her into adulthood. By January 2008, she was desperate.
Walking from the house to the car might as well have been running a marathon.
Ramey realized she had one more chance. She picked up the phone, and in tears, she called her sister, Janney Makowski.
"If I don't move in, I'm going to die," she told her sister.
Makowski immediately moved her sister into her home nearby, and a few days later, they went to Hanover's Weight Watchers.
The decision to change
Ramey tried fad diets before, and they worked for a little while. She'd lose some weight, then after a few months, she'd be back to where she started. She even tried Weight Watchers in the past, but didn't stick to the program.
But after her trip there in January 2008, Ramey realized this wasn't just another diet for her this time.
"It's a way of life," she said.
Her Weight Watchers leader, Holly Hoke, said Ramey's weight loss is perhaps the most significant she's ever seen in her time with the program. Hoke taught Ramey that in order to lose weight, she had to make some overall behavior patterns.
"It's not just about the food. It's about changing your behavior," Hoke said.
Each individual in Weight Watchers is given a certain number of points, Hoke explained, and different foods are valued at different point levels. As clients go through the program, the amount of points they can consume in a particular day is adjusted to their needs.
Perhaps the most important part of the program, though, is the group dynamic, Hoke said. Those in the program get together weekly for meetings where they support each other, learn about weight loss, and share new ideas. Plus, they realize they're not alone in the struggle, and when times get tough, Hoke said they see others who are going through the same thing. They can support each other through the tough times, and together, celebrate the good times.
The first week was particularly difficult, Ramey said. She tried to walk around the block, and that alone took an hour with breaks along the way.
But Ramey kept working hard. She walked around the block. She tracked her points. She wrote in her journal and attended meetings. Before long, Ramey was losing weight - one pound at a time. As the weight came off, she felt better and better about herself. And for the first time in a long time, she actually felt good.
Six months in, she had lost 40 pounds. In a year, she was 56 pounds lighter. By April of 2010 - two years and three months later - she was down 100 pounds, and by January of this year, Ramey had dropped 200 pounds.
She proudly carries a ring with tokens for each significant step along the way - 25 pounds, 50 pounds and 100 pounds. Ramey has had both setbacks and triumphs, but most importantly, she stuck to it.
The decision to lose weight changed Ramey's life. It also saved her life.
Many people with Williams Syndrome have cardiovascular issues, and Ramey is no exception. She was diagnosed in January 2011 with a cardiac condition called supravalvular aortic stenosis, a rare heart disease associated with Williams Syndrome.
At that point, she weighed 220 pounds, and she said without her weight loss, there's no way doctors could have performed the life-saving surgery.
Healthy and happy now, she's continuing toward her goal weight with nine pounds to go.
"I'm so happy and so elated," Ramey said. "Oh my gosh, I never thought I would see myself like this. I thought I'd be overweight my whole life."
Ramey's life has changed in ways both simple and profound. She walks at least three miles per day, when before, she would have to take a break walking from the house to the car.
She can take part in family activities. She can even go on amusement park rides, which she could not before.
And Ramey no longer has to specially order her clothing online.
She can shop at the same stores as her sister.