Doctors in three countries tried to save the ‘world’s heaviest woman.’ Now they mourn her.
An Egyptian national believed at one point to be the “world’s heaviest woman” died Monday at a hospital in the United Arab Emirates, putting a tragic end to a months-long campaign — spanning three countries — to save her life.
Eman Ahmed Abd El Aty passed away at 4:35 a.m. local time Monday, according to Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi. Her death at age 37 was caused by complications from her weight, including heart and kidney failure, the hospital said.
Doctors believe a thyroid condition and a rare gene defect caused Abd El Aty’s extreme weight gain, which eventually rendered her immobile. Abd El Aty’s weight reached an estimated 1,100 pounds last year, and efforts by her sister to find medical help seemed futile.
In October, Muffazal Lakdawala, a bariatric surgeon in India, reached out to the family to offer his assistance pro bono. The sister sent him a photo of Abd El Aty, bedridden and weighing about half a ton.
“My initial reaction was ‘How is she even alive?’ ” Lakdawala told The Washington Post in December. But, he thought, “If I can somehow use whatever God-gifted talent I have to save her, I must try.”
Offered this “new hope,” the family and doctors began documenting Abd El Aty’s journey on a blog called “Save Eman.” Her prognosis was grim, Lakdawala wrote there in January.
“Eman is a high-risk patient,” he noted. “She has already suffered a stroke resulting in paralysis of her right arm and leg, she cannot speak, has type 2 diabetes, hypertension, has severe obstructive and restrictive lung disease, gout and is at a very high risk of pulmonary embolism.”
And then there was the herculean task of moving Abd El Aty from her home in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria — which she hadn’t left in nearly 25 years — to the hospital in Mumbai, where Lakdawala would perform the bariatric procedure.
Abd El Aty was first put on blood thinners to reduce the risk of a pulmonary embolism during the transfer, according to her blog. Locals constructed a special bed with wheels that could hold her weight once she was out of the house. Video shot by the family showed a crane lifting Abd El Aty — lying in her specially made bed — out of a window of her home on an unspecified floor of an Alexandria building.
For several precarious seconds, she dangled in the air as the crane paused, with workers shouting instructions to one another. At last, she was lowered to the street.
She was flown to Mumbai on a specially equipped Air Egypt cargo plane. Once there, she was driven directly from the airport to Saifee Hospital in the bed of a truck, with a police and ambulance escort. The Times of India published a photo of another crane lifting Abd El Aty’s bed from the truck and placing it directly in a special room the hospital had created.
Before her surgery, Lakdawala warned that Abd El Aty’s various ailments would make caring for her a challenge: Hypertension. Hyperthyroidism. Gout. Diabetes. Severe sleep apnea. Pressure sores. Her body mass index, or BMI, was 252; under World Health Organization guidelines, people with a BMI of 30 or higher are considered obese.
Lakdawala said his priority was to save Abd El Aty and give her quality of life.
“Right now the way things stand the dice is loaded heavily against us,” Lakdawala wrote in March. “Nobody this weight is alive. Nobody this weight has been operated [on] and survived. This is not some effort at a world record, in medicine it never is. It’s worth it all when I see Eman smile.”
Against the odds, Abd El Aty underwent a successful laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy in March. A month later, she had lost more than 550 pounds in total, allowing her to sit in a wheelchair — “something we never dreamt of 3 months back,” her family said.