By Amanda Stringfellow @amanda_l_s
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A grandmother trapped in her home for ten years because of a huge 112lb growth on her stomach has been given a new life, thanks to pioneering surgery
Charlene Branham, 40, was weighed down by a huge mass - as heavy as a baby hippo - which hung down between her legs.
She could barely walk, and remained a prisoner in her home, unable to work, to go out, and relying on her mother Debbie to look after her.
The growth, called a penduculated pannus, is caused when abdominal fat becomes distended and hangs down dangerously below the body.
Charlene, from Aurora, Missouri, became so disabled by her growth she could barely move and couldn't find clothes to fit.
She struggled to find pants wide enough to cover the growth, and in the house had to resort to wearing bed sheets like a toga.
Desperate for help, Charlene spent years by herself in her bedroom scared of being seen, and her weight soared to 550lbs.
Charlene started to gain weight as a teenager, becoming a mother at 19, and a grandmother at 37, and over the years her obesity increased.
She first noticed the growth in 2005, but had often got cysts on her skin, so didn’t worry about the new growth.
“The growth on my stomach didn’t scare me at first because things grow on me,” said Charlene.
“After it started, it continued to grow and I just didn’t want to go anywhere, I didn’t want to leave the house.
“It just kept on getting bigger and bigger so eventually I went to the doctors.”
By the time Charlene sought help the mass was so large it hung down to her ankles, dragging along the ground when she walked.
Doctors in her home State, Missouri, were unable to remove the growth because it had become so large, accounting for 20 per cent of her body weight.
Every aspect of Charlene’s daily routine became a struggle.
“I felt like I was a freak because I’ve got this thing that’s sagging all the way down to the ground, " she said.
“There’s been times when I’ve tried to stand up and I just fell back down.
“I’ve been thinking I’ve been trying to kill myself slowly by doing the things I chose to do like being overweight.
“The way I’ve lived my life I’ve pretty much lived with one foot in the grave.”
But Charlene was saved thanks to the determination of her family physician Dr Allison Heider who kept searching for a surgeon who could help her.
Dr Heider said: “This mass is fatty tissue and blood vessels. As it grew gravity dragged it down further and further.
“This mass was going to kill her, if not from the sheer size of it but at some point it was going to start dragging on the floor which would lead to infection.”
Dr Heider found expert plastic surgeon Dr Vip Dev at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital in California, who had successfully removed other giant tumours.
But travelling all the way to California would be an epic 24-hour journey across America for
Charlene by car, because her size meant it was too difficult for her to fly.
Charlene was terrified of surgery, but the desire to be well enough to play with her young grandson gave her the motivation to change her life.
Her mother Deborah said: “She’d like to get out and watch her grandson play and run after him like a normal grandma would be at her age.
“I’m worried she’s just going to die on me, and no mother should have to bury her kid.”
Bravely Charlene prepared herself for the agonising car journey, accompanied by her mother, and driven by her sister on the 1600-mile trip across the country.
Most doctors had been afraid to cut into Charlene's growth due to the number of veins involved, and fearing her organs might have been pulled out of position.
Dr Vip Dev said: "This is perhaps one of the largest masses I've ever encountered and it will be a little bit more challenging than I expected."
But incredibly, in just over an hour, Dr Dev and his team were able to remove the gigantic growth, which Charlene had been carrying on her lower body for a decade. It took two doctors just to lift the mass.
Dr Dev said: “We attacked from the right side, and then the left side, and then we met in the middle.
“There’s always a complication when you're operating on someone this large. They’re losing a lot of blood during the operation.
“The wound is separating and coming apart and then you’re open to infection.
“It was a big sense of relief.”
After recovering from surgery, Charlene was transferred to a local nursing facility and underwent physiotherapy to help her to move and to learn to walk again.
Although Charlene still weighs 438 pounds she can now exercise, and is looking forward to starting her life again, and spending time with her grandson.
“I feel like a weight's been taken off completely," she said.
“I could go outside and watch my grandson play.
“I’m looking forward to getting on the road to health.”
Charlene's story appears in the new series of Body BIzarre, which airs on Thursday August 13, 9pm, on TLC.