The child of heavy parents, Williams struggled with obesity for most of her life. In the seventh grade, she weighed 299 pounds. Williams married at 15 and had two children by the time she was 21. When the extra pregnancy weight became oppressive, she took diet pills and sought the aid of nutritionists — all to no avail. Although Williams didn’t suffer from a thyroid problem, she felt genetics was a major cause of her obesity. “When you don’t have that thing in your head that tells you you’re full, it’s disgusting the amount of food that you can eat,” she once said.
In 2003, a drunk driver smashed into her SUV. Williams’ left leg was crushed in the accident, leaving her unable to walk. After the crash, she was completely bedridden and gained more than 400 pounds. Her home became a prison; the TV her only window to the world. Desperate to lose the weight, Williams sought the help of more than a dozen doctors. They all considered her a high-risk case and refused to take her on as a patient. Finally, Dr. Clifton Thomas and Dr. Younan Nowzaradan agreed to perform a weight reduction operation.
Gastric bypass surgery makes the stomach smaller and allows food to bypass part of the small intestine. Patients feel full more quickly, consume fewer calories and lose weight. This procedure has become more popular in recent years; more than 140,000 gastric bypasses are expected to be performed in 2007. The surgery is typically geared toward people with a body mass index (BMI) between 35 and 60, which the medical community defines as morbidly obese. Since Williams’ BMI was 137.5, the procedure was much riskier to perform. Not having the operation, however, would have surely meant a severely shortened lifespan.
Without complications, Dr. Nowzaradan predicted that she would lose more than 650 pounds over the course of three years. Williams simply hoped the operation would make her healthier and more independent. She dreamed of taking her two daughters to the park and marrying her fiance, Jayson Clover, on Valentine’s Day in 2008. She also wanted to have corrective surgery on her crushed leg and several other operations to remove excess skin.
The gastric bypass surgery took place on Feb. 20 at Renaissance Hospital in Houston and lasted for five hours. In the 12 days after her operation, Williams lost 67 pounds. Then, without warning, she began suffering chest pains followed by a massive heart attack. Doctors were unable to revive her.