Race to save ‘world’s heaviest woman’

At 500kg, Eman Ahmed has not left her home in Alexandria, Egypt for 25 years because of her extreme obesity.

Eman Ahmed with Dr Muffazal Lakdawala at her home in Alexandria, Egypt. The obesity surgeon has agreed to operate on Eman in Mumbai's Saifee Hospital but must first overcome the obstacles of bringing her to India. Photo Courtesy: Save Eman Cause
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MUMBAI // Doctors in Mumbai are battling a series of hurdles and logistical challenges to bring a 500kg patient, believed to be the world’s heaviest woman, from Egypt to India for a potentially lifesaving surgery.

Eman Ahmed, 36, from Alexandria in Egypt has not left her home for 25 years because of her extreme obesity.

Dr Muffazal Lakdawala, an obesity surgeon at Saifee Hospital in Mumbai, heard about her case when Eman’s sister, Shaimaa Ahmed, wrote to doctors around the world seeking help.

Recognising the urgency, he stepped forward and offered to treat her without cost.

“She’s like a ticking time bomb,” said Dr Lakdawala. “We’re working at break-neck speed to get her here.”

The plan is to bring Eman from Alexandria to Mumbai in early February but he is facing a slew of challenges.

They include finding ways to bring a 1.5 metre wide patient to Mumbai, how to get Eman out of her apartment, and finding an airline willing to fly her out. Meanwhile, a row has erupted with the municipality over the construction of a special connecting ward to the Saifee Hospital in Mumbai where Eman would receive treatment.

Performing the surgery in Egypt is not an option, as the expertise and facilities there are not readily available for the complexity of her case, said Dr Lakdawala.

“EgyptAir said that they could not fly her here because she would not fit through the door of a regular aircraft, while some other airlines did not respond at all,” he said.

After approaching several commercial carriers to help with transportation, Dr Lakdawala said the only solution is a back-loading cargo plan.

He managed to find a private operator that would be able to fly Eman on a one-way trip from Alexandria to Mumbai, but at a cost of US$130,000 (Dh477,400). Dr Lakdawala is currently working on raising funds to cover these expenses.

Eman became heavily Obese from an early age, but the exact cause is not known and the doctors in Mumbai hope this will become clear when they carry out tests.

Eman’s obesity has led to a series of other severe medical conditions, including a stroke two years ago that resulted in paralysis of the right side of her body. She is now unable to speak coherently, and has type 2 diabetes, hypertension, lung disease, and gout.

As a result, the operation will pose a high risk to the patient.

“We’re planning for the worst but hopefully nothing will happen,” said Dr Lakdawala. “A 500kg patient who’s not moved for 25 years, there are going to be risks.”

When Eman arrives in Mumbai, doctors plan to carry out a series of tests to understand the cause of her obesity and how they can best deal with her condition. The tests could take a few weeks.

She will then need to undergo at least two bariatric surgeries - a weight loss procedure which either reduces the size of the stomach or bypasses portions of the small intestine - and spend several months in Mumbai to undergo further treatment.

According to the Guiness World Records, the world’s heaviest woman is Pauline Potter from the US, who weighs 292kg. If Eman’s weight is confirmed, she would easily take the record.

To get Eman out of her Alexandria apartment on the first floor, a window will have to be broken and a crane used to move her on to a custom-made bed. Trucks will then transport her to and from the airports in Egypt and India.

Three doctors from Mumbai will travel with the patient in case of an emergency, given the high-risk condition she is in.

If everything goes to plan and the treatment is successful, her weight should come down to under 100kg within four years, Dr Lakdawala said.

Saifee Hospital has, at its own expense, built an 800ft square foot temporary ward next to the main hospital building specifically for Eman’s treatment. But construction was halted because of objections the facility was being built on protected land.

Huzaifa Shehabi, an assistant director at Saifee Hospital, said the hospital was working with Mumbai municipality to resolve the issue, expressing optimism they would be able to reach an agreement given the fact that the structure is not permanent and is for a humanitarian purpose.

“We needed to build a unit because we cannot carry the lady upstairs,” he said. “We have virtually everything we need for the operation because we are equipped to handle this.”

The largest patient that Dr Lakdawala has ever operated on was 300kg. But the extreme nature of Eman’s obesity means that even with his vast experience, Dr Lakdawala is worried about the whole process.

However, he believes there is still a chance for success.

“I’m conservatively optimistic,” he said.

“If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have got involved. I think there is hope.”