When Barry Stokes’ son was told he needed a kidney transplant, his dad did not hesitate to step up and offer to be a donor.
But there was a problem. In the blunt words of his doctor, Barry was too fat, at 20 stone, to undergo the surgery.
“He told me I was too fat. That was how it was put,” Barry, 61, recalls.
That day a target was set; the businessman from Lostock Hall faced the challenge of losing around six to eight stone to reduce his body mass index to a level that would allow him to be a viable transplant option.
This week marks a key milestone as Barry, who has shed around eight stones, will complete a Couch to 5k training regime.
And he hopes his story - and his hard work with independent weight management service A Better Life (ABL) - will serve as an inspiration to others.
I was classed as obese, off the scale in terms of my height and body size. If I can do it, anyone can.
He said: “I was classed as obese, off the scale in terms of my height and body size. If I can do it, anyone can.”
Barry’s son Alan was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in his teenage years, he and wife Irene were told he could only have months to live.
Now in his 30s, Alan is prospering and has recently completed a doctorate in artificial intelligence at the University of Manchester.
But bouts of chemotherapy to keep his illness in check caused damage to his kidneys, bringing with it the prospect of him needing a replacement in the future.
This is what brought Barry before the doctors.
“We were told that the best matches would be family members and preferably the father,” he said.
“The doctor said even if I was compatible, they wouldn’t take my kidney because of my weight.
“Now I’m ready and waiting. If something had happened and I couldn’t help, I couldn’t have lived with that.”
Working alongside ABL, Barry sorted out his diet and established an exercise regime. Through their support the dad-of-two lost the weight, and, crucially, kept it off.
He says he thrived in the camaraderie at the exercise sessions which became a community of its own.
“At first I did what everyone else did and tried to diet by myself but it just made me more hungry and I ended up putting on weight for a time.
“I learned about portion sizes - which is something that attracts a lot of media attention when people are talking about obesity. I didn’t know what was a right portion size, it’s all about that.
“The staff have been with me every step of the way, I couldn’t have done it without them.”
The way in which Barry got to the stage when he was classed as obese is something that may resonate with many, he says.
But with ABL’s Sarah Holden acting as his lifestyle coach, an achievable healthy eating and exercise plan was forged.
“I used to be 12 stone but put on weight gradually over a long period of time through comfort eating because of stress.
“It got to the stage where I was out of breath walking up the stairs.
“Both my wife and my daughter bought into it with me, it would have been difficult to do it on my own, they’ve benefited as well.”
The former salesman for the pharmaceutical industry who now operates his own business has recently completed several park run events in Preston and is keen to encourage more people to take up ABL’s couch to 5k scheme.
He says the free service has had an immeasurable impact on his life.
“The work that they do must save the NHS a fortune. Because of the condition I was in, I was putting myself at risk of diabetes, for example, that would have meant more care of a number of years,” he told the Lancashire Post.
“I’m going to help with the next couch to 5k course because for myself I want to keep going and also I want to give something back.
“I couldn’t have done it without Sarah, she has been with me all the way.”
‘Barry is an amazing ambassador for us’
The programme run by ABL Health, in partnership with Lancashire County Council, offers free nutrition advice and exercise sessions throughout Preston, Chorley and South Ribble.
Their sessions are varied and include group circuits of a light to moderate intensity, health walks, aqua aerobics, Couch to 5k running programmes along with weight management sessions that encourage and support clients to make small lifestyle changes which over time can make a big difference and result in lifelong change. The next Couch to 5k programme starts on April 25.
Sarah Holden, Lifestyle Coach at ABL Health, said: “I first met Barry in March 2017 when he attended one of my sessions at the local leisure centre. From that day on, his health and fitness has gone from strength to strength.
“As his lifestyle coach, I am so proud of what he has achieved in the past year.
“Not only has Barry lost a considerable amount of weight but his fitness has improved incredibly. It’s amazing to see how far he has come from starting out with chair-based exercises to completing the
Couch to 5km programme. He is an amazing ambassador for our programme and I am so pleased that Barry and his wife continue to attend the class as peer supporters to help other people on the programme.”
To learn more about the sessions, contact 01772 286382.