The age-old New Year's resolution to lose weight is familiar to many after the festive period, but for one Blackpool woman it was a decision that changed her future.
After the frivolities of Christmas, one too many mince pies and sherries with loved ones can lead to the inevitable New Year's resolution: "I want to lose weight, let's start on January 1."
But for Natalie Meadows, 39, from South Shore, losing weight meant she was able to "completely save her life."
In 2003, Natalie was diagnosed with a rare disease called Synovial Osteochondromatosis - or SOC - which affects the joint-lining tissue and turns it into bone-forming cartilage.
The disease caused non-cancerous tumours to form in her knee, which forced her to give up her job at Co-op opticians in Asda, Cherry Tree Road, Blackpool and undergo knee replacement surgery.
Natalie said: "Before my knee replacement I had so many different types of surgeries, at hospitals all over the country, and nothing seemed to help my pain.
"I was completely immobile, and spent four years permanently in a wheelchair.
"The pain was unbearable, and I couldn't move around anymore so wasn't able to keep a healthy weight.
"I was so unhappy, and I just hid myself away because I didn't want anybody to see me like that, and I certainly didn't have the confidence to go out on my own."
Despite living with a loving husband and two children, Natalie became depressed as she was "stuck" in her wheelchair and could not join in with family conversations discussing their days.
Nobody really knew how to control or treat her condition, and after her knee replacement, the pain became so unbearable for her that she even scheduled an amputation.
But she knew that an amputation may still cause "phantom limb pain", a condition that refers to sensations of pain at the site of an amputated limb, and desperately looked for answers to ease her pain.
At a pre-amputation appointment with a rehabilitation doctor, Natalie was shocked when they diagnosed her with another disease- Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.
CRPS is a chronic pain condition, usually affecting one limb and causes the sufferer to experience severely painful sensations.
Between 2003 and 2016, Natalie underwent various different treatment types, including spinal cord simulation, travelling around the country in severe pain to try to alleviate her symptoms.
She said she felt like it was hopeless, and she would be in constant pain forever, exacerbated by being overweight.
In December 2015, weighing 14 stone 6 pounds, she decided that in order to make more treatment available to her she had to lose weight.
She said: "I joined Slimming World, and finally found somewhere I could be motivated to make a better life for myself.
"I was absolutely terrified. I'd tried going to support groups, but I found them to be really sad places, full of sad people.
"Slimming World was full of support and love, it felt like I was with family there, and I'd tried every diet going before that.
"The support from the people around me led me to finally start losing weight, and eventually I was finally able to get out of my wheelchair."
In 2016, Natalie was offered a form of treatment called plasma exchange therapy, which is currently unavailable on the NHS, and only at a handful of hospitals in the UK.
Therapeutic plasma exchange involves removing plasma from the patient's blood and replacing it with fresh donor plasma, in an effort to alleviate pain and build up a stronger immune system.
Natalie said: "I started receiving this treatment at Royal Liverpool hospital, and spent three weeks with a central line in my neck.
"I had to go in for three weeks at a time because of my weight, because a bigger body meant more blood was needed and I was hooked up to drips constantly.
"The treatment itself was dangerous, because my veins could have collapsed at any minute- that was all the motivation I needed to carry on losing weight.
The treatment drained me so much, but it took my pain from a 10 to a six, and that made the world of difference."
After beginning to successfully shed the pounds, and in stark contrast to her previous life as an unemployed mum with no confidence to leave the house, Natalie decided to apply for a job as a Slimming World consultant.
But tragically, shortly before her interview, her beloved mother died after a serious heart attack, leaving Natalie heartbroken.
She said: "My mum was very overweight, and had diabetes because of that too.
"She had a heart attack and we lost her before I could tell her I had an interview.
"I'm still absolutely devastated that I never got to tell her about it. I had my interview just before her funeral, and I know she would be so unbelievably proud of me."
Natalie said the nature of her mum's tragic passing made her all the more determined to reach a healthy weight and help others achieve their weight-loss goals.
After her successful interview, in March 2019 she also became Team Developer, leading eight other Slimming World consultants in Blackpool, and running four of her own groups including the original one she attended at South Shore tennis club.
She has successfully lost three stone in weight, and although she will never be pain-free, the endless treatment for her CRPS is "more bearable."
She said: "Losing weight has completely saved my life, I have the support of everyone in my group to thank for that.
"I had no confidence, I didn't want to leave the house, I couldn't join in with anything my family were doing and I did nothing with my life for years.
"I would advise anyone in the position I was in to find their own circle.
"To make a change in your life for the better, you need the right kind of support from people who understand what you're going through, and I'll be forever grateful that I found that."
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