Eman Ahmed Abd El Aty, 36, has barely left her bedroom in Alexandria, Egypt in over two decades. According to her family, she weighs 1,102 pounds and is believed to be the heaviest woman in the world.
Eman is a prisoner of her own body — she can’t move or even sit up, she is unable to communicate and spends her days staring aimlessly at the ceiling.
“Eman didn’t live life as everyone does,” Shaimaa Ahmed, Eman’s younger sister and carer, told CNN. “She didn’t enjoy her childhood or youth. She’s been battling with her illness for 36 years.”
— Dr Muffi Lakdawala (@DrMuffi) December 5, 2016
Eman weighed 11 pounds when she was born, and by age 11 her weight just skyrocketed. Due to a thyroid problem, Eman gained a lot of weight and was constantly lethargic. Her legs buckled under her and she was not able to walk and she had to stop going to school.
“She would use her knees to reach the car in the parking lot, and we would drive her across Alexandria and the coast without leaving the car,” Shaimaa told CNN. “She wasn’t able to walk properly, and there was no wheelchair to fit her size.”
A stroke two years ago limited Eman’s movement and impaired her speech even more, Shaimaa said.
But Eman might get a second chance at life. Shaimaa launched a social media campaign surrounding her family’s plight, which caught the attention of prominent Mumbai-based weight loss surgeon Dr. Muffazal Lakdawa.
Dr. Lakdawa believes he can get Eman down to 220 pounds through several operational procedures.
“She would need to remain in Mumbai for two to three months for the surgery and treatment, after which she would be able to return home, but it would take two to three years to bring her body weight under 100kg,” Dr. Lakdawa said. “I’m hopeful that I will be able to help her, I won’t say I’m confident because I think that would be an exaggeration.”
Dr. Lakdawa set up a fundraising initiative in order to fly Eman to India for the operations and subsequent observations.
“She is battling with her life every single day,” Dr. Lakdawala told CNN. “Right now she is like a living bombshell, which could blow up on her any moment.”
However, the roadblocks to her potentially life-saving operations are substantial. Eman’s visa was at first denied because she was unable to psychically go to the Indian embassy in person. In response, Dr. Lakdawa wrote a letter to the embassy explaining Eman’s particular situation and begging them to reconsider.
When his plea was rejected, Dr. Lakdawa tweeted at India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swara j— and it worked. Within two hours, Swaraj responded and agreed to expedite Eman’s visa on humanitarian grounds.
The challenges don’t stop there — just accessing a plane will be difficult for Eman. Air ambulances can accommodate a stretcher, but Eman doesn’t fit onto a normal stretcher, so Dr. Lakdawa had to contact individual airlines to see if they have the capacity to accommodate her. Due to Eman’s size, she is not able to sit up, so they will need to find a flight that can let her lie horizontally.
Shaimaa recently picked up her visas and feels optimistic about the future.
“I know the doctor will exert his best effort,” Shaimaa told CNN.
Danielle Tarasiuk is a multimedia journalist based in Los Angeles. Her work has been published on AllDay.com, Yahoo! Sports, KCET, and NPR-affiliate stations KPCC and KCRW. She’s a proud Sarah Lawrence College and USC Annenberg alumn.