By Joe Roberts @jrobertsjourno
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Videographer / director: Adam Gray, Benjamin Holland
Producer: Joe Roberts, James Thorne
Editor: James Thorne
Wendy Miller, of Loves Park, Illinois, weighed 430 pounds at her largest, but after losing 188 pounds, she was left with an incredible amount of excess skin.
The stay-at-home mum underwent her first skin removal procedure this year and is now down an incredible 220 pounds.
Wendy told Barcroft TV: “In the beginning I never thought I could have lost this much weight. I’ve been heavy my whole life. It started in fifth grade and I just got heavier and heavier from there.
“At my largest I could hardly move. I just didn’t want to be alive, honestly. It was rough.”
At 430 pounds, Wendy’s size affected every aspect of her life, preventing her from going on theme park rides and playing with her children.
She tried to lose weight numerous times throughout her adult life, but eventually succeeded after defying doctors’ orders to have bypass surgery and losing the weight naturally.
“More than one doctor said I needed to have bypass surgery,” she said. “I wasn't going to have it. I was afraid of dying while having that surgery.
“I was like ‘I have to figure it out on my own or I’ll be obese for the rest of my life’. Then I finally came around and figured it out and did it.”
Wendy credits her family and friends with helping her turn her life around, particularly fellow weight-loss warrior Tina Jacobs, who became an irreplaceable support for Wendy.
Tina had previously managed to lose 338 pounds herself, and was passionate about helping Wendy follow in her footsteps.
“Wendy has been pretty amazing,” said Tina. “In 2012, when I met her, it was my first time ever sharing my story, besides on the news, so we stayed there for like five or six hours crying.
“She’d gone through a lot. It’s just really remarkable to see how courageous she is and how she doesn’t quit.”
But even with Tina’s support, it wasn’t an easy road for Wendy, who had established long-standing unhealthy eating habits.
She explained: “At 430 pounds on a typical day of eating I would eat pancakes or waffles for breakfast and I would also eat candies and cookies and processed boxed meals in extremely huge quantities.”
Trapped in a vicious circle, Wendy would eat to comfort herself about her weight, only adding pounds to her frame and eating all over again to feel better.
Undeterred, Tina helped Wendy tailor her diet, and when combined with a rigorous gym schedule and the help of Weight Watchers, the changes started to yield results.
Wendy’s weight began to drop in 2015 and since then, she has had ups and downs, gaining weight back and losing it again.
She said: “At the end of 2017 I got another infection on my feet and I had to go to the hospital and I nearly got septic. Had I not got into the emergency room I could’ve died.
“After that I couldn't be in the gym so I basically gave up again. In 2018, I believe I was almost back to 300 pounds and I was not going to have it.”
Following this setback, Wendy managed to pull things back together, beating her habits and getting back in the gym.
Trainer, Chase, said: “I’ve seen people lose weight but as far as Wendy, she’s probably the most weight I’ve ever seen one lose and still stick with it.
“But actually being able to keep it off and stay with it and have the courage to go through having the skin removed, because it’s a very painful surgery, it’s amazing.”
Unfortunately, the massive weight loss left Wendy with a large amount of excess skin, which made everyday life very difficult.
“Having excess skin is really debilitating,” she explained. “You feel trapped, encased. There is lot of stuff that we can’t do with it.
“We have to modify the way we work out. I get bruises all over me all the time around those regions.”
This year Wendy underwent her first procedure to remove the loose skin around her stomach, and the results have been life-changing.
The four-hour surgery removed 10 pounds of skin and meant Wendy could finally lead a more normal life.
“I can do so much more now,” she said, following her surgery. “I used to not be able to hold a plank for a minute because of the extra weight pulling down on me. But now, I can do an almost four-and-a-half-minute plank.
“I can wear sexier clothes. I can wear shorts or shirts because I don’t have to cover all of that. I can see parts of me that I have never been able to see before, which is a big deal.
“I was standing in front of the mirror, seeing what it looked like for the first time, and it was just mind-blowing.”
Tina said: “Wendy is incredible. I have seen her when she has been so high and soaring and so low where she doesn’t even want to live anymore, but she has overcome all of it.”
In the future, Wendy is hoping to get more surgeries to remove the remaining skin, and is focused on maintaining her commitment to a healthy lifestyle.
“I still do see the 430 pound girl when I look in the mirror,” she said. “I am working really hard to see that girl that has worked so hard to get to where she is now.
“I worry every day about sliding into my old eating habits because I have done it over and over and over but this is different this time.
“You’ve got to want it in your heart and in your soul because it’s not going to happen if you don’t. You’ve got to want it and you just do it, and nothing gets in your way. No excuses.”