Lisa Krantz: A Life Apart: The Toll of Obesity (PHOTOS).

One Man’s Lifelong Battle With Obesity 

One Man’s Lifelong Battle With Obesity 

Behold
The Photo Blog
April 2 2015 12:14 PM

One Man’s Lifelong Battle With Obesity 

A Life Apart: The Toll of Obesity
At almost 600 pounds, Hector Garcia Jr. struggles to walk across the hall from his bedroom to the bathroom so that his mother, Elena, can wash him in November 2010.

Lisa Krantz

Hector Garcia always felt judged for being overweight—people rarely stuck around to get to know him.

“Where else do you see people getting ridiculed and allowed to get away with it if it’s not over a fat person,” he said. “Food’s the only thing I could ever do that wouldn’t ridicule me, that wouldn’t give me a hassle, it was like my friend and it became a crutch and before you know it, it became disastrous.”

Lisa Krantz, a staff photographer at the San Antonio Express-News, met Garcia in 2010 through his sister, Rebecca Freed. Freed was trying to find a photographer to mentor her daughter in photojournalism. She was also hoping to find someone who would be able to tell her brother’s story so he could find help.

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Garcia attempted to lose weight many times—including a gastric bypass surgery in 2000—but a number of factors contributed to the common roller-coaster weight loss and gain many people face. Without private insurance, Garcia was unable to pay for care including weight loss drugs or behavioral counseling.

Krantz spent four years working with Garcia and his family on what she initially thought would be a weight loss story. It turned out to be a much more in-depth story about Garcia’s struggle, his relationship with his family, bouts with depression, a desire to inspire other people to try to lose weight, and, ultimately, his death.

A Life Apart: The Toll of Obesity
Hector Garcia Jr. gets a visit from his family to celebrate his 45th birthday in November 2010.

Lisa Krantz

A Life Apart: The Toll of Obesity
“I ended up flopping out like a dead whale, just throwing my leg over and just rolling out of the pool,” Hector Garcia Jr. said of struggling to get out of the pool for the first time at the Palo Alto College Aquatic Center in May 2011.

Lisa Krantz

A Life Apart: The Toll of Obesity
Hector Garcia Jr. teases his mother at the Westside Family YMCA in September 2011. When Garcia began going to the YMCA, he was only able to walk in the pool. As he lost weight and became more mobile, he was eventually able to shoot hoops.

Lisa Krantz

A Life Apart: The Toll of Obesity
Hector Garcia Jr. had to stay away from the plentiful assortment of Thanksgiving desserts in 2011.

Lisa Krantz

When Krantz met Garcia, his goal was to lose 300 pounds in order to be eligible for double knee replacement surgery. He achieved that goal, but complications from the surgery—he had four operations in a year—and the necessary rehab that went along with it, prevented Garcia from the daily routines that had been a catalyst for the initial weight loss.

“For someone like me whose very regimented and who has to stick to certain plans because of my problems with abusing food, it was a kiss of death; it destroyed me basically,” Garcia said on a multimedia project that Krantz also produced as part of the series.

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Throughout the process, whether Krantz was photographing Garcia exercising or hanging out with his family, she said he was always open to her being there, regardless of his physical or emotional state. “He tells the story but I’m only one small part of it,” she said. Krantz had her camera ready during one moment when Garcia was trying to get out of a swimming pool.

“He said something like ‘I ended up flopping out like a dead whale,’ ’’ Krantz recalled. “That was one of the most humiliating things that had ever happened to him but he was glad people could see it and they could see what obesity does to people. He wanted parents to see it who had children moving in that direction so they could change their child’s habits and wouldn’t end up being like him.”

Krant’s editors wanted to wait to see if there would be a resolution before publishing the story, but once Garcia began to gain weight again, they decided on a print date to see if they could find someone able to help Garcia. Unfortunately, a few weeks before that date, Garcia, who suffered from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, complained that he was having a hard time breathing and collapsed. He died a short while later; the cause of death is still unknown.

A Life Apart: The Toll of Obesity
Hector Garcia Jr. and Lupita Mendoza share ice cream cones at Marble Slab in December 2011. Garcia met Mendoza, who lives in Alabama, on Facebook through a mutual friend and got together for coffee and ice cream when she visited San Antonio.

Lisa Krantz

A Life Apart: The Toll of Obesity
Dr. Daniel C. Valdez, right, prepares for Hector Garcia Jr.’s first knee replacement operation on July 3, 2012. In all, Garcia had four surgeries: two to replace his knees—one of which had to be redone with a different type of knee—and one to fix a torn patella tendon.

Lisa Krantz

A Life Apart: The Toll of Obesity
Hector Garcia Jr. undergoes physical therapy in July 2012 after his first knee replacement operation.

Lisa Krantz

A Life Apart: The Toll of Obesity
“I overeat because food never rejects me, but the truth is, it’s actually rejecting me now because it’s killing me,” Hector said peeking into a bag holding a 20-piece box of Chicken McNuggets in September 2014.

Lisa Krantz

A Life Apart: The Toll of Obesity 14
By June 10, 2014, Hector Garcia Jr.’s weight was nearing 500 pounds. He needed to use a walker for support again and felt his knees were unstable. Obesity “strips you of your pride, it takes everything away from you,” Hector said. “You can’t hide it. It’s always there, it’s always in front so people always see it.”

Lisa Krantz

“That’s the part I live with,” Krantz said. “It’s the hardest part after the loss of him … photographing him for four years, he and his family became a part of my life.” For Garcia, he wanted his story to be a cautionary tale for other people struggling with obesity.

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“It’s hard to fight for my life when I feel that my life is not a life, it’s existence, I’m 48 years old and I’ve never lived, that’s the way I feel I’m existing, I don’t remember a time when I was truly happy in my whole life I remember happy moments with my family, enjoyable moments, but never truly happy and I don’t know I’ll ever find that and I’ve comes to terms with that that maybe that’s what my life will be.”

A Life Apart: The Toll of Obesity
Hector Garcia Jr. lights the candles for his 49th birthday on Nov. 19, 2014 as his mother sings to him at their home in San Antonio. By his birthday, Hector was confined to his chair, only walking to the bathroom and his bed.

Lisa Krantz

A Life Apart: The Toll of Obesity
Hector Garcia Jr.’s body is removed from his home on Dec. 8, 2014 by contractors with the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s office. Hector collapsed after walking 40 feet from his room to answer the front door when his mother arrived home without her key.

Lisa Krantz

A Life Apart: The Toll of Obesity
Elena Garcia breaks down as she tells the story of her son collapsing and her efforts to revive him the night before in their living room. She speaks to her other son, John, and his wife, Rosa, left, after they arrived from Houston on Dec. 9, 2014 to comfort her.

Lisa Krantz

A Life Apart: The Toll of Obesity
“I love you mijo,” Hector Garcia Sr. repeats to his son as he and his wife say goodbye to him for the last time at the conclusion of the viewing at Trevino Funeral Home in Palo Alto.

Lisa Krantz

A Life Apart: The Toll of Obesity
Crumb, one of the Garcia family dogs, lies on Hector Garcia Jr.’s bed shortly after his body was removed by contractors with the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office on Dec. 9, 2014.

Lisa Krantz

David Rosenberg is the editor of Slate’s Behold blog. He has worked as a photo editor for 15 years and is a tennis junkie. Follow him on Twitter.