Bryan Ganey slowly climbed out of his parents' car. Michael and Martha Ganey had driven their son to work because he wasn't feeling well -- for the past couple of days, simple tasks had left him short of breath and exhausted.
At 577 pounds, being out of shape was normal for Bryan, so he ignored it. But as he headed toward the door of his office on June 20, 2010, the ground suddenly shifted.
The Ganeys were pulling away when Martha's cell phone rang. All she heard on the other end was gasping.
The couple stopped the car and sprinted back to the building, where they found their son lying in the bushes, struggling to breathe. The ride to the hospital took only five minutes, but to Martha, it seemed like hours. Bryan didn't care how long it took -- he knew he was going to die.
"I was absolutely convinced that I was having a heart attack. I had been told by doctors before that at my size, if I ever had heart problems, they weren't going to be able to operate on me. So there was a very good chance that this was the end -- that I would get there and there wouldn't be anything they could do," he said.
Out of control
For years, Bryan worked the night shift at a Verizon call center in Charleston, South Carolina, 20 miles from his home in Moncks Corner.
He skipped breakfast, ate fast food for lunch and dinner, then picked up a pizza or some convenience store snacks on his way home. He often drank more than a gallon of soda a day. By the age of 37, he had a body mass index around 87. A BMI over 30 is considered obese.
"He was very aware that he had a problem," Martha said. "It was out of control."
June 20 was possibly the best thing that could have happened to Bryan, although it certainly didn't seem like it at the time. His "heart attack" was actually a pulmonary embolism, or a blood clot that had traveled to his lungs, blocking his oxygen flow. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "sudden death is the first symptom" in about a quarter of patients who have a pulmonary embolism.
For six days, Bryan lay in a hospital bed, covered in bruises caused by the blood thinners being pumped into his body. The blood thinners slowly cleared the blockage in his lungs, giving him plenty of time to think.
"At first, I felt like a victim, like somebody or something had done this to me," Bryan said in a YouTube video about his experience. "But then reality set in and the pain turned to anger. My condition was unacceptable."
Several doctors tried to broach the subject of weight-loss surgery while he was in the hospital, but Bryan refused. Both he and his mother had friends who had gone through the surgery and were suffering from complications.
If I can make it out of here alive, he thought, I'm not coming back.
Today, Bryan, 39, tells his story from the driver's seat of a car that he wouldn't have fit in two years ago . He shops for clothes at department stores, buys one seat on an airplane instead of two and sleeps through the night.
"The absolute best thing about all the weight that I've lost is just waking up every day and realizing that I don't weigh 577 pounds anymore," he said with a laugh. "The biggest rewards are the smallest ones."
Small steps are what began Bryan's weight loss journey. After leaving the hospital, he began to move -- at first pushing a shopping cart around the grocery store like a toddler learning to walk. Then he ventured to the mailbox at the end of his driveway. Soon, he was conquering several miles at a time.
He lost 130 pounds in the first six months, then dropped another 140 pounds over the course of the next year. At 5-foot-8, Bryan now weighs just under 300 pounds.
"It turns out it really is true," Bryan wrote in his iReport submission. "If you use more energy than you take in, you will lose weight."