An Egyptian national believed at one point to be the “world’s heaviest woman” died Monday at a hospital in the United Arab Emirates, putting a tragic end to a months-long campaign — spanning three countries — to save her life.
Eman Ahmed Abd El Aty passed away at 4:35 a.m. local time Monday, according to Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi. Her death at age 37 was caused by complications from her weight, including heart and kidney failure, the hospital said.
Doctors believe a thyroid condition and a rare gene defect caused Abd El Aty’s extreme weight gain, which eventually rendered her immobile. Abd El Aty’s weight reached an estimated 1,100 pounds last year, and efforts by her sister to find medical help seemed futile.
In October, Muffazal Lakdawala, a bariatric surgeon in India, reached out to the family to offer his assistance pro bono. The sister sent him a photo of Abd El Aty, bedridden and weighing about half a ton.
“My initial reaction was ‘How is she even alive?’ ” Lakdawala told The Washington Post in December. But, he thought, “If I can somehow use whatever God-gifted talent I have to save her, I must try.”
“Eman is a high-risk patient,” he noted. “She has already suffered a stroke resulting in paralysis of her right arm and leg, she cannot speak, has type 2 diabetes, hypertension, has severe obstructive and restrictive lung disease, gout and is at a very high risk of pulmonary embolism.”
And then there was the herculean task of moving Abd El Aty from her home in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria — which she hadn’t left in nearly 25 years — to the hospital in Mumbai, where Lakdawala would perform the bariatric procedure.
Abd El Aty was first put on blood thinners to reduce the risk of a pulmonary embolism during the transfer, according to her blog. Locals constructed a special bed with wheels that could hold her weight once she was out of the house. Video shot by the family showed a crane lifting Abd El Aty — lying in her specially made bed — out of a window of her home on an unspecified floor of an Alexandria building.
For several precarious seconds, she dangled in the air as the crane paused, with workers shouting instructions to one another. At last, she was lowered to the street.
She was flown to Mumbai on a specially equipped EgyptAir cargo plane. Once there, she was driven directly from the airport to Saifee Hospital in the bed of a truck, with a police and ambulance escort. The Times of India published a photo of another crane lifting Abd El Aty’s bed from the truck and placing it directly in a special room the hospital had created.
Before her surgery, Lakdawala warned that Abd El Aty’s various ailments would make caring for her a challenge: Hypertension. Hyperthyroidism. Gout. Diabetes. Severe sleep apnea. Pressure sores. Her body mass index, or BMI, was 252; under World Health Organization guidelines, people with a BMI of 30 or higher are considered obese.
Lakdawala said his priority was to save Abd El Aty and give her quality of life.
“Right now the way things stand the dice is loaded heavily against us,” Lakdawala wrote in March. “Nobody this weight is alive. Nobody this weight has been operated [on] and survived. This is not some effort at a world record, in medicine it never is. It’s worth it all when I see Eman smile.”
Against the odds, Abd El Aty underwent a successful laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy in March. A month later, she had lost more than 550 pounds in total, allowing her to sit in a wheelchair — “something we never dreamt of 3 months back,” her family said.
In late April, Abd El Aty’s weight was down to about 389 pounds, and all signs were that she was stable, according to her blog. Doctors in India referred her to Burjeel Hospital, to be closer to her family in Egypt. After being declared “fit to fly,” she was transferred to the UAE hospital in May.
The last entry on the “Save Eman” blog was dated May 4, and it noted that there would be no further updates there.
Abd El Aty’s rehabilitation continued in Abu Dhabi, and over a 10-week period she was able to speak for the first time in three years, the National reported in July. Doctors also diagnosed Abd El Aty with severe depression and began focusing on her mental health — while her family clamped down on interviews. The goal was to have Abd El Aty undergo further liposuction and excess skin-removal surgery, and perhaps return to Alexandria within a year, the newspaper reported.
In July, a visibly slimmed-down Abd El Aty appeared at a news conference at Burjeel Hospital, smiling and waving at reporters. Earlier this month, the hospital released a photo of Abd El Aty celebrating her 37th birthday.
It is unclear whether Abd El Aty was undergoing a surgical procedure at the time of her death. Burjeel Hospital representatives and the family’s former press team did not respond to questions sent by emails Monday.
“Our prayers and heartfelt condolences go out to her family,” the hospital said in its statement announcing Abd El Aty’s death.
In remembrance of his former patient, Lakdawala — the bariatric doctor in India who had responded to Abd El Aty’s family’s pleas for help a year ago — tweeted Monday a verse from the Koran that translated to “We belong to Allah and to Him we shall return.”
“You shall always remain in my thoughts and prayers #EmanAhmed,” Lakdawala wrote. “Shall forever remember her smile RIP.”