IAN McConnell was so morbidly obese his colleagues wanted an inflatable ramp to evacuate him from work in an emergency.
He was eating himself to an early grave.
He tipped the scales at a staggering 37 stone, had Type 2 diabetes and got out of breath taking a few steps.
But the single dad of three is starting 2014 on a high.
Not only has he lost HALF his body weight losing a staggering 16 stone, but he has been reunited with his estranged daughter he hadn’t seen for nearly 20 years.
His daughter, Louise, from his first marriage got in touch after channel hopping and seeing her dad appear on a reality fat-fighting programme when he went under the knife for a gastric bypass.
Now he has met his grandchildren for the first time and has been granted a new lease of life.
“The way things were going, who knows what I’d weigh now,” he says.
“It sounds dramatic, but I’ve been given my life back.
“I’m doing things now I’d given up on.”
Ian says he was always slim at school and was the football and badminton captain.
But tragedy meant he resorted to food for comfort.
Having lost his dad when he was just 11, his worst nightmare came true when his son Paul died suddenly while Ian was at work.
Ian had separated from his first wife and his 19-year-old son was staying at his Hampshire home when he developed appendicitis. He died from peritonitis.
Ian explains: “He had complained of a pain in his side. I went to work and said I’d register for the doctor on the way home.
“I went in, gave the address and the receptionist said I had better see the doctor.
“He told me ‘I’m awfully sorry I’ve been called to your house today, your son is dead.’ It was horrendous. There isn’t a day goes by I don’t think about him.”
As a result of the shock death, he lost touch with his daughter Louise who was then aged 13 and lived in Wales.
He fell in love with the woman who supported him through his loss. Ian says he began losing weight and though 19 years his junior, he married her and had two children Holly, 17, and Katie, 16.
But the nine-year relationship broke down and the children’s mother moved out leaving him to bring up the girls alone.
He was granted six months off work for compassionate readjustment and turned to food more than ever before.
The legal advisor at Southampton Magistrates Court would get home from work and eat with the girls then eat again once they were asleep. He’d sometimes even get up in the middle of the night to eat again.
“I love the girls dearly but as soon as they were in bed, I was here alone with just my thoughts.
“Sometimes I’d even stay a little longer with them.”
Ian became so big even his colleagues and his boss took him aside to express their concerns for his health.
“I was indignant about three years ago when we had a fire drill and in a post-mortem of it they said ‘we did notice you didn’t get out as quickly as everyone else’.
“They were even saying ‘perhaps we should have those airport inflatable ramps on the top floor to get Ian out.’ It might have been said in a joke but it was undoubtable, I was a concern to them.”
But it wasn’t just at work.
He had outgrown the clothes at High and Mighty a specialist shop for larger people.
Instead he was a 10 xl buying underwear from Big Bloomers and it once cost him £1,300 to get a suit especially made.
He would drive around for half an hour just to find a parking space near to the entrance of WestQuay to take the girls shopping.
He’d avoid mirrors and the camera. “It’s shameful to admit”, he says. “I look back now and it must have been quite horrific for people around me.
“What I will take to my grave is the fact I wasn’t able to do it for my two girls before. I am ashamed of that. I should have been looking into their cots thinking ‘what are they left with if anything ever happened to me?’ I knew being this fat could kill me.”
It was a GP appointment for cellulitus in his leg that prompted him to take action, in October 2010.
The doctor hadn’t mentioned his weight and Ian joked with him about it.
It led to them discussing the options of a gastric band or bypass.
By April 2011, Ian was sure he wanted a gastric bypass operation to staple his stomach to the size of an egg.
One of Britain’s most sought after bariatric surgeons Shaw Summers, agreed to carry out the £14,000 operation on the NHS that August and asked Ian to feature on the reality programme Fat Doctor.
The cameras rolled as Ian went under the knife for the risky surgery – which shrinks the stomach so much he could only handle eating ramekin-sized portions afterwards.
His 32-year-old estranged daughter, Louise spotted her dad on TV.
Ian, explains: “Suddenly a letter arrived from Louise saying ‘I was channel hopping, saw the name McConnell Southampton, thought ‘that’s a coincidence’, saw two half sisters (she now knows them as) say ‘our dad’ and tears ran down her face.
“She said ‘he’s not just their dad, he’s my dad’ so made contact.
“We began swapping emails, then met and are now reunited as a family. The surgery gave me my life back.”
Ian who physically cannot eat as much as he did before still hopes to lose more weight.
He is also desperate for the £4,000 operation to remove his ‘apron’ the excess skin he has due to the extreme weight loss.
“I’ve not got a body to be proud of, I’m still fat but compared to before, it’s incredible.
“People I haven’t seen for a while will say ‘you look fabulous’ and it boosts your confidence. I can now get into 3xl clothes off the hanger. It feels unbelievable.”
Ian is now looking forward to being the more active dad he has become with his two teenage daughters and grandchildren.
“I’m a jolly person and I’ve never changed despite putting on weight,” says Ian who comperes charity events.
“I have three delightful daughters and for me they are the most important thing.
“I want to do it all now. I want to last that bit longer for them.”
He says morbidly obese people have the power to change.
“It’s never too late to do it. I’d say if you have struggled for as many years as I have, with nothing working at all, and someone says to you: ‘I can make your stomach smaller, clinically you will be safe. You can begin to live a more normal life which means you won’t be a bigger drain to the NHS service, you will feel better in yourself, you won’t get diseases you would have got’ then do it.
“I’ve got a new lease of life. It’s as simple as that.”