Mod note: It is with great sadness that I’m posting the following story. For those of us who know richie79 from Big Fat Blog, this will be devastating news. I’m so sorry for your loss, Richie.
My name is Rich; I may be better known to some of you as richie79 of the UK who used to post prolifically on Big Fat Blog and elsewhere in the Fatosphere for many years. I wanted to share my dear wife Heather’s story and felt this was maybe the best place to do it.
I met ‘sweetheather86’ online in 2005 through a plus-size dating website. I’ve always had a preference for bigger women and at the time was in a bad place following the failure of a previous long-term relationship. Heather and I hit it off almost immediately despite her being in the US and almost 7 years younger than I. Looking forward to daily emails from one another quickly progressed to a first nervous long-distance phonecall, nightly 4-hour chat sessions on MSN and before either of us knew it I’d booked a ticket to Boston. Two incredible weeks on from our first shy meeting at Logan Airport I knew this was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.
The only cloud on the horizon was the gastric bypass Heather underwent just two weeks after we first made contact. Even then I knew of the horrendous risks of these operations and was even in two minds whether to continue contact, but had already fallen for her at this point. She came from a long line of big women and had herself been big throughout childhood, resulting in numerous failed diets and all the bullying and exclusion that accompanies being a fat child / teen. At the time several of her family members had undergone the surgery and were still in the ‘honeymoon’ period. She told me that she wanted it done so that she could have all the things in life she wanted – someone to love her, a home and a family, and not to be abused and harassed in public, which she had been convinced were not available to a person of her size. She opted for the bypass as unlike the lap-band it was irreversible and therefore offered no opportunity to reconsider at a later stage.
Our relationship continued to blossom even as her health deteriorated. Each of us crossed the Atlantic to spend long periods together in one another’s countries and during this time we crammed in as many activities, visits etc as some couples do in a lifetime. In September 2007 I proposed to her and she accepted without hesitation; we were married two years later almost to the day and having obtained a spousal visa, in July 2010 she moved to Leeds in the UK to live with me full-time. By this point she had lost around 200lb and gained back almost 100lb of that. She was on a cocktail of drugs, could eat very little, suffered from constant dumping syndrome and was developing problems with joint pain and constant fatigue, particularly after a revision to the original surgery to repair the staples but which further reduced the range of foods she was able to eat. She looked gaunt and ill but was constantly congratulated on her weight loss, which exasperated me.
In October 2010 Heather gave me the news that she was pregnant. Our joy at this was tempered only by concerns about her deteriorating health. Fortunately apart from having to be artificially rehydrated several times (she suffered from such debilitating nausea throughout the pregnancy that she was at times unable to keep down fluids) her pregnancy passed without serious incident. Our son Ben was born in June the following year; despite several attempts to induce her at term plus two weeks she was never in active labour and had to undergo an emergency Caesarean section where she was treated like an inconvenience by several of the medical staff.
Her surgeon in the US recommended a UK counterpart in our city who might have been able to help but under NHS rules she would first have to see a dietician. I went along with her as she was worried that this would be used as yet another opportunity to shame her about her weight; predictably the dietician told her that on her sub-1000 caloric intake it was ‘impossible’ for her to be maintaining at 320lb and that there must be something she wasn’t telling her (because everyone knows that fat people always lie about their eating habits). This was followed up by a barium swallow which suggested she may be suffering from a stricture (narrowing) of the digestive tract and the prospect of further investigation (subsequent events meant this never ultimately took place).
On the weekend of 8th February 2013 I went to visit friends in another city. Heather had encouraged this rare weekend away, as we took it in turns to give one another breaks from the stresses of daily life. She waved me off at the train station with hugs and kisses and called to tell me goodnight later that evening. That would be the last I ever heard from her. My attempts to contact via text and phone throughout Saturday went unanswered and, knowing how out of character this was, my friend drove me home. Unable to gain access to the house, which she’d locked from within, I called the police, who broke in and found her collapsed in our bathroom. I was told that she’d been gone for some hours. Our little boy was fortunately still upstairs in his crib and none the worse but for need of a clean diaper and a good feed.
Initially we thought the cause may have been related to a persistent headache she’d been complaining of but which her doctor had failed to take seriously. The results of the post-mortem however showed that the truth was far worse. Unbeknown to anyone she’d developed a fistula at the site of the gastric bypass surgery. This had suddenly ruptured causing, as the report put it ‘destruction of chest cavity and diaprhagm through discharge of gastric material’. I don’t even want to imagine the pain my poor sweet wife suffered in her last hours, or to think that the surgery on which she’d once pinned her hopes of acceptance (and subsequently come to regret when she realised that her happiness was not weight-dependent) had been a ticking timebomb from the very beginning of our relationship.
Heather was without a doubt one of the sweetest, kindest, most loving people I have ever had the privilege to know. In a world with so much cruelty and unpleasantness she was a revelation of tolerance and humanity. She gave me confidence to be myself and helped me through my diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome last year. We had a strength of connection that is all too rare and were soul mates in every sense of the word. In turn she told me that my unconditional love for her had finally given her contentment and safety when so much of her life had been marked by pain and unhappiness. My life, Ben’s life, and the world at large will be all the poorer for her absence from them. Rest in peace my sweet one, and know no more pain.