50st Sophia Loots 'ballooned' over mosquito bite can walk again

Updated: 2013-02-27
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Sophia's weight ballooned after she was bitten by a mosquito
 
Five years since she took to her bed, 42-year-old Sophia Loot from South Africa is walking again, after a leg operation gave her back her freedom.

When Sophia's weight ballooned from a size 14 and 14 stone to almost 50 stone after being bitten by a mosquito in 2006, the foster mother of two was too ashamed of her weight to go to the hospital for a diagnosis -- thinking it was down to overeating.

However, after half a decade spent pinned to her bed by enormous legs weighing almost 10 stone each, she has finally taken action.
 
A radical diet and surgery, combined with a surgical procedure that drained her legs, and stripped them of excess flesh, has allowed her to take her first steps for years.

Sophia was also diagnosed with a genetic form of lymphedema, which caused her skin to thicken and swelled further.

Lymphedema, aka elephantiasis, can be brought on by emotional distress and Sophia had previously lost her father and had a stillborn child.
 
According to the World Health Organisation, more than 1.3 billion people in 72 countries worldwide are threatened by lymphatic filariasis, commonly known as elephantiasis.

Of the 120 million people currently infected, 40 million are disfigured and incapacitated by the disease, which causes the abnormal enlargement of body parts.

Sophia, from Cape Town, grew so heavy she was unable to perform simple tasks such as washing or going to the toilet unaided.

And as Sophia turned to food for comfort, her weight continued to grow.
 
Eventually she fell into a spiral of depression due to the emotional impact of her condition.

However, following a public appeal to save her life Sophia was put on a radical diet plan and lost enough weight to be eligible for surgery.

She said: "I honestly thought I was going to die in my bed. It was terrible. My kids had to come home from school to help me go to the toilet.

"My husband worked away a lot and I spent my time alone in bed knitting or listening to the radio or in tears."
 
Sophia's eating got so out of control she was eating thousands of calories per day and do no exercise.

In a single day she would eat a loaf and a half of bread with a block of cheese, 10 cups of coffee with five sugars and cream, two litres of cola and three family bags of crisps.

She said: "Food was my only comfort in the end.

"In the space of five years I lost everything, I could barely call myself a mum.

"My legs felt like they were on fire all the time. I was in agony - it was torture."
 
Sophia and her husband Manie, 66, fostered Marita, 17, and Nolene, 13, ten years ago, but the girls ended up caring for Sophia.

At one point it took five people to lift Sophia's legs to be able to wash her.

But after having surgery to drain her legs and remove the excess skin, Sophia is now down to 20 stone.

She said: "What I've been through is nothing short of a miracle.

"I was introduced to a dietician called Christo Strydam who created a diet especially for people like me. In the first month on my diet I lost a stone and a half.

"Taking my first steps in five years was very emotional."
  
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