320kg woman amongst NZ's heaviest

01:40, Jul 11 2014

A 320-kilogram woman lifted from her home by firefighters is among the most obese people in New Zealand and is likely beyond surgical intervention, a health professional says.

The 54-year-old Canterbury woman, and the mattress she lay on, were placed on a loader and carried to a waiting ambulance. After the almost two-hour effort, the woman was driven to Christchurch Hospital, where eight firemen carried her inside.

Their efforts yesterday were not unusual. Canterbury fire brigades were called to lift the morbidly obese on a monthly basis, the Fire Service said.

An ambulance crew went to the rural house about 9am to transfer the woman to hospital.

Unable to carry her, they called firefighters for help.

The country's most experienced bariatric surgeon, Richard Stubbs, said he had carried out about 1500 operations on obese patients in a career spanning 18 years.


The heaviest person he had treated weighed 360kg, Stubbs said.

But fewer than 2 per cent of his patients weighed more than 200kg.

The morbidly obese Christchurch woman was likely beyond medical intervention, he said. ''For people to survive surgery they have got to be reasonably mobile to get themselves going. She needs to be able to stand on her feet and walk around a little.''

The woman's father, who she was staying with, said the firemen did "a terrific job".

"They took the front door off, the sliding door at the side of the house. They couldn't get her out there, so they took out a window and took her out on a mattress," he said.

His daughter ate "normal" food but had grown heavier during the past eight years.

She was housebound, unable to work or drive and "couldn't move hardly at all", the 82-year-old said.

She lived in a flat behind his house. He cooked for her and home-help cleaned her flat.

He said his daughter spent most of the day on her computer. "She's a large girl. She couldn't leave the house."

She researched her weight problem on the internet and believed she had lymphedema, he said. The condition, which caused fluid retention and tissue swelling, was sparked by anxiety, he said.

Her GP had urged her to lose weight but had not diagnosed the condition. She would be tested for lymphedema at Christchurch Hospital, he said.

"It's been going for a long time and it [going to hospital] had to happen." Other than her weight, she was "as fit as a trout", he said.

"She just wants to try and be normal."

The volunteer firefighters, many of them carpenters, had the house put back together by 11am.

Dietitian Lea Stening was "really sad" to learn of the woman's weight. "That isn't living any more. You lose your freedom, mobility becomes an issue, ankles and knees give out. Society should not allow people to get that large," Stening said.

"There should be intervention. It's not just about diet, it's about good services [and] support."

The Fire Service's Christchurch assistant area commander, Greg Crawford, said firefighters had about one call-out a month to help ambulance staff lift someone who was obese.

Two firefighters recently sustained minor back strains from doing so.
The central city rescue truck carried a purpose-built lifting sheet with handles "for that very reason", Crawford said.

"It's one of those things. It's part and parcel of helping the community."

In January 2010, a Christchurch man who weighed 280kg was forklifted from his Bromley house to a waiting ambulance.

The 37-year-old taxi driver was laid on to a pallet at the front door. Both went into the ambulance.

At the time, the man blamed both an addiction to fast-food and a knee injury for his obesity.

Wellington Hospital has a hoist for the super-heavy, which can take patients up to 500kg, and a purpose-built bariatric room to cope with larger patients.

Use of the hoist had increased in the past five years and it had become "invaluable for staff", a Wellington Hospital spokeswoman said.

A standard hospital hoist can bear a load of 70kg.

The Canterbury District Health Board declined to comment yesterday.

The latest New Zealand health survey found that one in three Kiwi adults is obese.


Body mass index or BMI is calculated by dividing a person's mass by the square of his or her height.

A normal BMI is considered to be between 18.5 and 25, while those over 30 are considered "obese".

A person is described as "severely obese" if their BMI is between 35 and 40, or "morbidly obese" with a BMI over 40.

Those whose BMI is greater than 45 are described as "super obese".

* Definitions from Wikipedia

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