Catrina Raiford's resurrection commenced little more than a year ago(December 9, 2003)in a cargo van headed north to Ohio on Interstate 75. Raiford didn't literally begin to rise from the dead from the floor of that rental van. But after months of being trapped in a bed by morbid obesity as if in a tomb, the journey to a weight loss facility outside Toledo certainly represented a figurative rebirth.

When Raiford, then 25, left Tampa, she weighed 955 pounds and couldn't walk. She was so big she couldn't travel on a commercial airliner. So big that part of a wall in her mother's East Lake house had to be removed to get her out. So big that when she had a medical emergency, she had to make the trip to a hospital on a tow truck. She didn't fit on a gurney in an ambulance, and rescue workers couldn't lift her, so she was loaded onto the truck by its sling.

Gift Of New Life
The trip to possible salvation was prompted by Raiford's humiliation at her condition and fear of living out her years trapped in a bed, unable to care for herself. But the journey wouldn't come cheap. The treatment would be paid by Medicare.
Getting there was the problem.

Since she couldn't fly, the only relatively affordable way for her to travel was on a mattress in the bed of a rented cargo van. But Raiford didn't have the $1,600 needed for the rental. Tampa Tribune readers, who donated the money, are angels, says Raiford. God's will and their generosity played a major role, she says, in changing - if not saving - her life. "If it wasn't for them, I may have given up."

Confronting Reality
She did give up several times early in treatment, which involves changing eating habits through portion-controlled meals, exercise, and individual and group therapy. But the surrenders were brief. "It was hard. I'm not going to lie to you," Raiford says. "I failed sometimes. It was tough." Among the most difficult things Raiford accomplished - besides losing 326 pounds - was learning to accept and love herself. She has also had to acknowledge that she is a compulsive overeater and will have to fight food addiction for the rest of her life.

She isn't sure how long it will take to reach a satisfactory weight. Or what that weight might be. She still focuses on moderate eating and daily exercise, much of that done in a swimming pool, which is less stressful on her joints. She continues her therapy and has joined Overeaters Anonymous. She also has begun to reach out by computer and even has several Web pages complete with before and after pictures.

It took almost five months before she could walk at all. Now she gets out of the facility and even enjoys trips to the mall. One goal is to lose more weight through surgery that would shrink her stomach with a band around it. Then she'll need reconstructive surgery to rid her body of excess flesh. Raiford also wants to come back to her native Tampa, go to school and get a job. "I can't settle anymore. I want a life, a really good life. I can see that life now. I couldn't when I was home in that bed.

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Jul 25, 2004
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