Why this Mackay man is finally smiling
IMAGINE walking from A to B with sandbags tied to your legs.
That's the everyday reality for 27-year-old Mackay man Hayden Tunnicliffe, whose incurable condition saw him weigh 280kg at his heaviest.
But being "that guy that's always stared at” has led Hayden to take control of his life, turning to surgery to remove a large fluid sac on his leg that grows bigger day by day.
Hayden has a condition called Lymphoedema, that leads to an accumulation of excessive amounts of protein-rich fluid, resulting in swelling of one or more regions of the body: In his case, his legs.
He said while it was devastating to find out he had the condition, it was also a relief knowing there may be a way to treat it and eventually give him a better quality of life.
"Apparently it is in a way a genetic condition that has always affected me but it was exacerbated when I've started to gain weight,” Hayden said.
"I always just thought it was a symptom of my weight gain but basically I noticed at some point my legs were getting exponentially larger than the rest of my body.
"The issue there is obviously the skin stretches and dries and I was getting a serious infection called cellulitis in my legs every couple of months.
"It was affecting work, just in general the swelling affects my mobility, buying clothes, sleeping, everything, even just my general mood day to day.”
After starting a new job in IT in Mackay, Hayden's condition began to properly present itself and soon started impacting every aspect of his day.
He said walking around was like trying to walk with sandbags tied to his legs - he decided then he had to do something about it.
"With no cure there wasn't a great amount I could do at first, the treatment I am undergoing currently are kind of compression wraps that I have to wear 23 out of 24 hours a day,” he said.
"There are some surgical options to address the growth, which is what I'm saving to get now.
"The condition itself I will probably have to deal with for the rest of my life but just to have the growth removed would be great.
"It is a real burden for me, I really want to just blend into the crowd again, instead of being that guy that's always stared at because of it.”
Hayden said over the years the growth had begun to impact him not just physically but mentally, so the news of a diagnosis and surgery provided him with one last piece of hope.
"It did prompt me to start sessions with a psychologist, I was losing any hope of moving forward with my life,” he said.
"I'd always hoped there was a way to deal with it because it was frustrating because people stare and it does impact you.
"Getting rid of it would just mean improving my life, I could start to live normally again.”
To accompany his hopeful surgery, Hayden also underwent gastric sleeve surgery recently which has seen him gradually shed some weight, from his peak of 280kg to his current weight of 215kg.
That's 65kg since October 2016, he is also actively going to the gym to continue his weight loss journey.
His goal is to get below 200kg first, as he doesn't recall the last time he's been beneath that number and then will continue on his quest for a healthier life.
Hayden is now saving for the surgery to remove the growth from his leg with the assistance of Nutricula Psychology who have started a fundraising page for him.
Tertia Potgieter from the clinic said since starting counselling and talking about surgery, Hayden's outlook on life has changed.
"When he first came to us he was very down and demotivated,” she said.
"He was keen to work but his condition impacted that, but all of a sudden when he found out about this and started discussing this surgery his demeanour was just different.
"He's much more positive just talking about removing the lump, it's such a hindrance for him, honestly it will change his life completely.
"We hope he can get it done, we want to see him happy and healthy again.”
Surgical treatment of Lymphoedema/lipoedema is being trialled in Melbourne and Sydney, this includes surgical reduction and micro-surgery to restore lymph flow.
He is hoping to travel to Sydney to be assessed and approved as a candidate for the treatment and in turn gain back his life once more.
The total cost of Hayden's travel, assessment and potential surgery will cost $13,000. To donate to Hayden's cause visit https://www.gofundme.com/help-hayden-gain-quality-of-life.