Saved by a death sentence
Wendy Dougal, 43, from North shields, was eating herself into an early grave… until some devastating news hit home
As our little dog Lexie scampered through the park, my husband David and I tried to keep up.
It was spring 2016, and we loved being out in the fresh air. But our daily walks were becoming a challenge.
With each painstaking step, every joint in my body ached. Beside me, David, 45, was also panting and wheezing.
‘Neither of us are in the best shape, are we?’ I sighed.
‘Don’t worry about it, love,’ he winked.
Typical David. He never moaned – even though he was coping with a deadly heart condition.
He had transposition of the greater arteries, which meant blood wasn’t pumped around his body correctly.
When we’d first met in 2007, he’d played down the fact he’d nearly died as a baby.
Sadly, there was no cure for his condition and, over the years, he’d deteriorated and had needed a pacemaker fitted.
But he never let any of it hold him back. He was full of life, cracking jokes and making friends wherever he went.
But I felt ashamed that he was struggling with health problems when I’d brought my own issues on myself. At 5ft 7in and weighing 23st, I was dangerously overweight. I’d been steadily piling on the pounds since my school days, when I’d turned to comfort eating after being bullied.
Although I’d escaped my tormentors after leaving school, old habits were hard to break. Every night after work, I’d binge on biscuits and glasses of white wine.
I’d been a curvy size-22 when David and I had got married. And, since then, I’d kept gaining weight until I barely even recognised myself.
David didn’t seem to notice, though.
‘You look beautiful,’ he’d whisper, wrapping his arms around me.
Or trying to...
Still, I pushed my weight concerns aside in June 2016, when David went for his annual heart checkup at the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle-upon-tyne.
Recently, he’d been feeling increasingly tired and had even stopped coming for walks with Lexie and me.
After his checkup appointment, he phoned from the hospital.
‘They’re keeping me in for tests,’ he said.
Panicking, I rushed to the hospital with a bag of clothes for him – and got the shock of my life.
He was lying in a bed, hooked up to machines.
‘David’s condition has drastically deteriorated since his last checkup,’ the doctor explained. ‘His lungs are weak and he’s in heart failure.’ ‘Please do what you can for him!’ I begged.
The doctors put him on oxygen and tried different medications. We hoped that he’d be eligible for a heart transplant.
But, in July 2016 after five weeks in hospital, we were ushered into the consultant’s office.
‘There’s nothing more we can do for you, David,’ the doctor said, explaining that his lungs were too fragile for a transplant operation.
He wouldn’t make it through surgery. Devastating.
We’d never expected it to come to this.
The doctor couldn’t say for sure how long David had left.
‘It could be months,’ he warned us.
He was only 45. How could this be happening?
When David was discharged later that day, with medication and an oxygen canister, we went home feeling numb.
Neither of us had cried yet but, as we sat on the sofa together, reality hit.
We fell into each other’s arms, sobbing and promising to cherish every moment that we had left together.
‘I’ll be here for you,’ I vowed. David gave up his job as Managing Director of his family’s sheet-metal firm, and I gave up my call-centre job to be his full-time carer.
He was so weak, I had to help him get dressed and washed, and to support him as he struggled around the house.
I wouldn’t have had it any other way, of course, but the stress made me turn to comfort eating even more than normal.
Takeaways, huge portions of creamy pasta or pie and chips, all washed down with wine… eating was the only way for me to forget, momentarily, that David was dying.
I piled on more weight and, by September 2016, I was a size-30 and in terrible shape.
Wheezing and panting, I could barely even climb up
Every night after work, I’d binge on biscuits and glasses of white wine
the stairs in our house.
One night, David passed out in his armchair.
For an awful moment, I thought that he was dead.
Thankfully, he came round, but I was guilt-stricken.
What if he’d fallen over upstairs? I’d have struggled to reach him. How can I take care of David when I can’t take care of myself?
It was a wake-up call. ‘Enough’s enough,’ I told David. ‘I need to slim down.’
‘I’ll support you,’ he promised me.
At first, I devised my own diet at home but, after a few months, I’d barely lost anything.
So I decided to join Weight Watchers in January 2017. At my first meeting, I stepped selfconsciously onto the scales and gasped.
I weighed a whopping 26st 3lb.
But everyone there was so kind, welcoming.
‘I’m doing this for my husband,’ I said, feeling emotional. It was the motivation that I needed to keep going. I reduced my portion sizes, ditched takeaways, filling up my plate with steamed vegetables instead. I also quit the booze.
Within a week, I’d lost 13lb. I vowed to keep going and stuck faithfully to the Weight Watchers points system.
I was desperate to hit my target weight of 12st while David was still with us. I wanted to make him proud. We didn’t know how much longer he had left.
Yet incredibly, six months on, he was whooping with pride, as I discovered I’d lost 7st, and was down to a size-20.
‘I think you need some new clothes,’ David smiled. I didn’t just look different. I felt like a new person, too. I joined a gym and took Lexie out for hour-long walks every day.
Her little legs could barely keep up with me! Incredibly, my success seemed to spur David on. Despite the doctor’s terrifying diagnosis, he was still with us in December 2017 for a wonderful Christmas together.
‘Nice outfit!’ he winked as I slipped into a size-18, red
It’ll be too big for me this Christmas.
Since last December, the weight has kept dropping and I’m now 13st 13lb.
Best of all, my gorgeous hubby’s still defying the odds.
I can’t wait for us to spend another Christmas together.
I’m going to be good, though. I don’t want to undo all my hard work.
I’ve lost a staggering
12st 4lb, have even started my own Weight Watchers group in Monkseaton, North Tyneside.
I’ve got another
1st 13lb to go before I hit my target weight of 12st.
‘I’ve done this for you, love,’ I tell David.
Because while a trim figure and trendy wardrobe is fab, the fact I can look after my husband is what counts.
David is now 47, and we’ve no idea how long he has left. But we refuse to dwell on that.
I’m fit again now, and we’ll enjoy every moment together – for as long as we can.
Looking after David is my priority
It’ll be too big this year! I was a size-30, weighed 26st 3lb NOW Trim and trendy at 13st 13lb