To be told that you have kidney disease which may result in a transplant is devastating enough to hear. But to then be told that if you did reach the stage of needing a transplant, you would be refused the surgery on the grounds of it being too risky due to being overweight is truly crushing. Davina Bywater tells AASMA DAY how these words gave her the wake up call to lose weight.
Holding a pair of jeans she once used to wear, Davina Bywater shakes her head in disbelief as she struggles to comprehend that this was the size she once was.
With her new lean and trim figure, she can actually fit both her legs into one jeans leg as she has plummeted from a size 24 to a size eight.
Davina, 37, who lives in Whittle-le-Woods, near Chorley with husband Rob and eight-year-old son Oliver, says she still has to pinch herself to believe she is now the size and shape the mirror is showing her.
And after years of battling with her weight, she is determined the new her is here to stay.
And although she admits it sounds a strange thing to say, she is thankful she has a kidney disease which almost claimed her life as a baby as without the realisation of the risk she was putting her life at, she confesses she may still be toppling the scales at over 19 stones.
Davina explains: “I had reflux nephropathy when I was a baby which is kidney damage due to urine flowing backward from the bladder toward the kidneys
“I almost died when I was six months old because at first doctors did not know what was wrong with me.
“When they realised, they operated on me to solve it and at the time, I was the youngest person to have this surgery.
“The operation was successful but the damage to my kidneys had already been done.”
Ever since, Davina has been under a consultant to monitor her kidneys as they will decline more quickly.
To her horror, a few years ago, Davina was told she had Stage 4 kidney disease and that the next and final stage was kidney failure which would result in dialysis.
Frighteningly, Davina’s consultant told her that if her kidneys failed leading to her needed a transplant, she would not be allowed one as she was too overweight and the surgery would be too risky.
Davina says: “I always knew that one day I might need a transplant because of my kidneys.
“But to be told that the last resort of a transplant might not even be open to me was a real shock.
“I was told I would be refused a transplant because of my BMI.
“I was heartbroken and panicked. I felt desperate for my husband not to lose his wife and my son not to lose his mummy.
“My husband Rob is registered blind and our lives very much revolve around my ability to see.
“The thought of leaving Rob to cope as a single dad made me feel sick.”
Davina says she has had a weight problem practically all her life and had attempted to lose weight several times, but had always piled it back on.
Davina says: “I was around 10 when I started piling the weight on but even before that, I was never a skinny girl.
“When I got to high school, I would come home from school and snack on different foods before my mum and dad came home.
“I would eat a lot of food secretly in addition to the meals my parents gave me.
“My biggest thing was sandwiches and I used to eat a lot of bread, cheese, pastries, crisps and chocolates.”
Davina says her large size led to her being bullied mercilessly at school where she was surrounded by teenage girls with tiny size eight and size 10 frames.
She got into a vicious cycle where to make herself feel better, she would eat more.
She recalls: “When people picked on me, it just made me dislike myself.
“I just wanted to blend in with everyone else but felt I was being noticed for the wrong reasons.”
Davina began attempting to lose weight quite early on in life and although she was successful, she always put it back on.
Davina says: “I never had any trouble losing weight - it was keeping it off that was the issue.
“Every time I lost weight, I would put it all back on and more besides.
“That’s how I got bigger and bigger through successive weight loss attempts.”
Davina, who studied at the University of Central Lancashire, met Rob on a student night out and the couple have now been together for 18 years and married for 12.
Davina’s life was hit by tragedy when she lost both her mum Brenda and Dad Andy in 2010 within months of each other.
While Davina was pregnant with Oliver, her mum was diagnosed with cancer in her uterus and underwent a hysterectomy.
However, it was then discovered the cancer had spread all over her abdomen and although she fought the disease with chemotherapy, she passed away in August 2010.
While Davina’s mum was still alive and undergoing treatment, early in 2010, her dad began feeling unwell and was tired and run down as if he had flu.
Nothing was pinpointed until mid May of that year when it was found he had cancer on his kidney and he had an operation to remove it.
Davina remembers: “It was a very stressful time with both my parents ill and having a young child too.
“It was extremely difficult and things were so chaotic, I did not have time to shop or cook and was eating takeaways and comfort food to make myself feel better.”
Davina’s dad deteriorated and went into St Catherine’s Hospice where he passed away in November 2010.
Davina remembers it was an awful time losing both parents and she spent the next year grieving, sorting out their estate, buying a new house ... and doing lots of eating.
She says: “My weight was the last thing on my agenda and I tailspinned into a world of comfort eating and couldn’t concentrate on my weight.”
In June 2011, Davina went on a holiday to Cyprus and struggled so much to do up her seatbelt, she was at the point where she feared she would have to ask for an extension belt.
Davina says: “The thought of asking for an extender filled me with horror so I somehow managed to fasten my seatbelt.
“But it was really painful and it was the most uncomfortable journey of my life.
“I felt like the cabin crew had all noticed and were laughing at me.”
New technology at her GP practice meant Davina was able to see her medical record online.
When she looked back at her medical history, she was given a jolt to see herself described as “obese” at the age of 10.
She recalls: “In my mind, I always knew I was big, but to see it there in black and white that I was given that label so early in life was a shock.”
Davina’s pregnancy with Oliver took its toll on her kidneys and when Davina went to see her consultant, she was told her kidneys were declining - but that if she reached the point of a transplant, she would be turned down because of her weight.
Initially, Davina felt depressed at the news and weighing her heaviest at 19 stones 4lb, the prospect of losing weight seemed impossible.
In desperation, Davina wrote a letter to her GP and consultant as she didn’t feel she would be able to articulate the words without breaking down.
She begged for a gastric band or weight loss surgery as she felt this was her only option.
Davina says: “I had lost all confidence in myself and my ability to lose weight myself.
“I explained how scared I was about my kidneys and my health and asked for help through weight loss surgery.
“I justified it to myself by telling myself it would be cheaper for the NHS in the long run by saving them the cost of dialysis or a transplant.
“However, my GP wouldn’t refer me for a gastric band as although I met the criteria as my BMI was 45, she said they would try other avenues first.
“In retrospect, I am very glad about this.”
Davina was tried on fat expelling tablets, but found this horrible and it didn’t really work.
She then attended an NHS course called Food For Thought which was useful in teaching her not to carry guilt or shame about her eating habits.
Davina says: “At the time, I thought the course wouldn’t make a radical difference to me.
“But it contributed to my success by encouraging me not to feel bad if I slipped up with my eating.
“Getting rid of the guilt has been life changing.
“Before, I used to have guilt and negative feelings if I had one slip up and felt it meant a downward spiral.”
Davina joined Weight Watchers, which she had done before, but this time, she had a totally different attitude.
She explains: “I didn’t go to classes like before, but did it online at home.
“I felt I didn’t want need to be accountable to anyone - I was doing it for me.
“I didn’t want to go somewhere to be weighed; I had perfectly good scales at home.”
Davina reduced her portion sizes by buying smaller plates and told herself there was no hurry and lost weight gradually.
She says: “This time, I wasn’t impatient. I realised if I wanted to lose weight and keep it off, I needed a life long plan.
“Rob was so supportive and tried to eat all the same things as me.
“I lost the weight very slowly over three years averaging a pound a week.
“But that was better because it meant I kept it off.”
Davina is now at her goal weight of nine-and-a-half stones and has lost a massive 10 stones.
Incredulously, she says: “I now weigh less than the amount I have lost!
“I can’t believe I am now buying clothes in size eight and 10.
“I never aimed to be a size eight - I thought I’d be happy with a size 12.
“But I didn’t realise it when I was swamped under all that weight, but I actually have a small frame.”
Fitness is now a big part of Davina’s life and she cycles a lot as well as going to the gym.
Davina says: “My kidneys have not got any worse and are now stable. My kidneys may still fail one day, but at least my weight won’t get in the way of treatment options.
“My blood pressure used to be high, but is not fantastic and I feel so much healthier.
“I now have the energy to run around after my son.
“I run up and down the stairs whereas before, I would walk up and still get out of breath.
“Rob used to get himself in such a state worrying about my health but now he doesn’t have to.
“Rob loved me the way I was before and found me attractive, but he is honest enough to tell me he prefers me the way I am now.
“I am not offended by this in the slightest. I prefer me the way I am now!
“It all feels like a dream and I have never been happier.
“People ask me for advice on losing weight as they think I have some secret formula.
“But it is all about being patient and your psychological approach to weight loss.
“I feel in control and know this is too good to throw away.
“It was the thought of my health declining and leaving Rob and Oliver behind that gave me the wake-up call I needed.
“I am thankful I have kidney disease. This seems a strange thing to say, but without it, I may still be over 19 stones.
“I just wish my mum and dad were still around to see my success.”