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From 900 to 376 pounds, a special trainer inspired this woman to get healthy

After a health scare at 900 pounds, Laura Somers started losing weight. When she hit a plateau, celebrity trainer Don Saladino pitched in.
/ Source: TODAY

At 39, Laura Somers struggled to breathe when she would take the stairs or get up from a chair. When she slept, she felt like she was “drowning.” Finally, her mom convinced her to go to the emergency room where doctors learned Somers, who weighed almost 900 pounds, had cardiomyopathy.

“I only had 15 percent usage of my heart on my left side,” Somers, now 49, of Chicago, told TODAY.

Cardiomyopathy occurs when there are diseases of the heart muscle. It causes the heart to become enlarged, thick or rigid. As the condition worsens, the heart becomes weaker. This can lead to heart failure or arrhythmias.

Somers was in the hospital for almost a week. Doctors removed more than 100 pounds of fluid from her body; her body was retaining fluid after the cardiomyopathy slowed blood from pumping.

“I was scared to death. It was a sobering moment. The doctor had told me the cardiomyopathy was like when they see it in people who are drinkers or do drugs. I do neither,” she said.

Still, she knew she was unhealthy. Somers’ weight made moving so challenging she lost her job and rarely left her house. Doctors told her she could need a heart transplant if she didn’t change.

“It scared me the hell out of me when they said that,” she said.

Doctors recommended a low-sodium diet to help Somers drop weight. So after her hospitalization in 2009, she changed her eating habits.

“It was hard. You had to get rid of everything,” she explained.

Somers also added exercise to her routine, but weighing around 700 made it tough. So she simply walked around her house. From 2009 to 2016, she lost 365 pounds. But then her weight loss stalled.

“I was just stuck. I could not go over that plateau,” she said.

Somers follows actor Sebastian Stan on social media. She’s a big Marvel Universe fan and loves Stan’s character Bucky Barnes. The actor shared his workouts with his trainer, Don Saladino, who would encourage viewers to send questions. So she sent messages to Saladino, who also owns Drive Health Clubs in New York City, in the hopes he would help her.

“He answered me. He said, 'Whoa really? You did this?’” Somers recalled him saying about her weight loss.

After some messages and a call, Saladino agreed to work with Somers. At first, he had her dramatically change her diet.

“She had to eliminate all the crap,” he told TODAY.

That meant no more white flour or sugar, while adding lots of vegetables, fruit and lean protein to her meals. While he’s not as strict with others, he knew Somers needed a serious regimen to get to her goal of weighing 200 pounds.

“Her life was on the line,” he said.

At the time, she was using a walker. Saladino understood he needed to modify exercises for her so he suggested walking and issued a 30-day challenge for her to try. As she became stronger, he added more exercises to her routine.

“When I started her on the treadmill she couldn’t walk a minute in one shot. In only about a month, there was a lot of progress,” he said.

Somers lives in Chicago and Saladino is based in New York City, so they train virtually. After workouts, she takes a picture to update him. Since they started working together, she has shed another 175 pounds, and now weighs 376 pounds. While she still wants to lose an additional 176 pounds to reach her goal, she is proud of what’s she done.

“Mentally and physically, I am stronger than I think I am. That’s the biggest thing for me,” she said.

She shares some tips that have helped her.

1. Find support.

While she lost a lot of weight without help, she feels more confident with Saladino and his trainers sending encouraging messages.

“I am lucky that I have this support team behind me,” she said. “I owe Don my life. If I wouldn’t have found him to help me I don’t know where I would go.”

2. ‘It is a lifestyle change.’

Losing weight and keeping it off isn’t a quick fix. It involves all new habits.

“I changed my eating habits. He has me meditate for 10 minutes ... the gym and the treadmill. It is a whole lifestyle change,” Somers said. “I want to take my time and get to my goal the correct way.”

3. Recognize your non-scale victories.

Somers once relied on a CPAP machine (a hose and mask or nose piece that helps to deliver air) to sleep, but she no longer needs it. She climbs the stairs with ease and walks when she goes to comic conventions. Now she can drive because she fits behind the wheel of a car and she recently donated five bags of clothes that were too big.

“It is all those little things,” she said. “I have a lot more confidence.”

For more weight-loss inspiration, check out our My Weight-Loss Journey page. Interested in changing your habits? Sign up for our One Small Thing newsletter for extra support.