S P A R K S, Nev., April 28, 2004 -- Erin Jones Myrick tried every diet plan and pill before a doctor finally told the 32-year-old nail salon owner that her nearly 400-pound weight problem was going to send her to an early grave.
"My doctor told me I was going to die," said Myrick on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. "He looked at me and said … 'You are going to live maybe another 5 or 10 years at the rate you're going.'"
After failing to lose the weight on her own for years, Myrick realized she would die young if she didn't take serious measures. The young woman was already suffering from the crippling effects of arthritis and was at high risk for developing heart disease and diabetes.
"It's very clear that people with her [Myrick's] degree of morbid obesity have a much shortened life expectancy," said Dr. Kent Sasse, Myrick's Nevada-based surgeon. "She was an example of someone who, while very young, was looking at a life of increasing medical problems," he said.
When Myrick agreed that surgery would be the only real solution to her desperate case, she turned to her insurance company. When her repeated requests for coverage were denied, despite letters from her doctor that she would die without it, Myrick's spirit was temporarily broken.
"I was disgusted, I was saddened. It was like another slap in the face," Myrick said. "I said, 'well, you'll be paying for my hospital bills because I can't walk. You'll be paying for wheelchairs, you'll be paying for my oxygen tanks.'"
Myrick said she became depressed and discouraged as she realized that she could wait forever for the insurance company to come around while she continued to struggle.
"There was a lot of things I couldn't do. I couldn't go to movies. I couldn't sit in a booth at a restaurant. I couldn't go through a revolving door because I was afraid I would get stuck. That was very scary," Myrick said.
While Myrick was frustrated, at 390 pounds she feared her battle with morbid obesity would end in death if she didn't quickly take matters into her own hands. So she began to investigate every possible financing option for a gastric bypass procedure — a radical procedure in which a tiny part of the stomach is sectioned off and attached directly to the intestine.
She decided to put her salon up for sale and nearly put her house on the market when her family and nail salon clients discovered her struggle.
Myrick's clients at the Total Image Nail and Hair Salon helped her raise money by giving her bigger tips and donations, adding up to a couple thousand dollars. Plus, her mother borrowed money against her house and own retirement fund to pay for Myrick's surgery.
"Every time I'd get discouraged when my insurance would tell me no, I would talk to my friends, my family, my husband," she said, "and they would all push me and say 'you know you've been working for this, you need to do this, you know you need to do this, we're going to do it, this is going to be OK.'"
It's been 10 months since Myrick underwent her gastric bypass procedure and she says the change has been incredible. The salon owner who says she would rather be healthy than thin, has already dropped 175 pounds. She says she would like to lose another 20 to 30 pounds before she settles at a final weight, which she will need to mantain.
Myrick says she's finally able to show her family and friends the love they deserve now that her outlook isn't so desperate.
"I've mended the friendships that I pushed away. My marriage is on a wonderful track," she said.
The salon owner still has to pay off $40,000 in medical bills related to the surgery, but she says the debt is well worth her physical and mental health.
"I used to be afraid to look in mirrors because I didn't believe what I saw," Myrick said. "I didn't believe that was me and now I like to look in mirrors, I like to see what I've become, what I'm becoming. I have a whole new life to look forward to."