Medical Mystery: Morbid Obesity

Manuel Uribe hasn't left his bed or his apartment in Monterrey, Mexico, in five years.

That's because less than a year ago, at 1,200 pounds, he was considered by many to be the heaviest man in the world.

Currently on a diet -- he's following The Zone -- he now weighs 800 pounds, but still can't stand on his own, and spends his days in a special industrial-size bed.

"I had an obesity problem for many years, a very significant one. I was gaining and gaining weight. I was on every diet you can imagine," Uribe said.

"I used to eat normal, just like all Mexicans do. … Beans, rice, flower tortilla, corn tortilla, French fries, hamburgers, subs and pizzas, whatever regular people eat. I worked as a technician, repairing typewriters, electronic calculators and computers. So I worked on a chair. It was a sedentary life," he said.

Morbid Obesity

Uribe is beyond the kind of overweight that comes from fast food and lack of exercise. Doctors call it morbid obesity.

According to the National Institutes of Health, obesity means weighing 20 percent or more than your ideal body weight, and it's a health risk.

Morbid obesity is altogether different. Sometimes called "clinically severe obesity," it means you're 100 pounds or more over ideal body weight, with a body mass index of 40 or higher.

Uribe doesn't gain weight like the rest of us. Brain chemistry, genetic mutation, addiction, psychological pain -- or an unhappy combination of all of them -- makes morbid obesity one of the biggest mysteries of medicine.

'We Don't Have an Explanation'

Dr. Jaime Gonzalez makes house calls to Uribe once a week. His goal: to help his patient lose 1,000 pounds. Uribe's legs and lower body are massaged daily to improve blood circulation.

"Our main concern currently [are] his lower extremities," Gonzalez said. "There are large volumes because of the amount of fluids retained here."

Incredibly enough, in spite of his enormous weight, Uribe says he is in good health.

"Yes, I have accumulated fat, but I'm healthy," he said. "I don't have sugar, cholesterol, triglycerides, diabetes or high blood pressure. My heart works perfectly fine."

"We don't have an explanation," Gonzalez said.

'I'm Never Full'

New Yorker Michael Hebranko poses another medical mystery. Twenty years ago, at 1,100 pounds, he was considered the fattest man in the world.

"I could eat two dozen eggs," Hebranko said. "Thirty-six pork chops, 24 frankfurters. I've eaten two dozen bagels at one time with two packages of cream cheese. I'm never full. I'm never, never, ever full."

Then, in the late 1980s, with the help of celebrity dieter and exercise coach Richard Simmons, Hebranko miraculously dropped from 1,100 pounds to 200 pounds -- in only 19 months.

He became an overnight success, appearing on a Simmons workout video and becoming a motivational speaker to the super obese.

"I'm in the Guinness Book of Records in 1990 as the world's greatest dieter. I lost the most weight in the shortest time," he said.

His success was short-lived, though. Flash-forward seven years, and Hebranko was back up to 1,000 pounds. At his worst, he was forklifted out of his apartment and rushed to the hospital.

Then, like Uribe, he spent the next three years of his life bedridden. "That was pretty much the worst part of my life," Hebranko said.

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