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Kicking It Up a Notch

“Biggest Loser” Becomes Winner After 140+ Pound Weight Loss

Daphne Dortch

Dortch has parlayed her own weight-loss success into a new business helping others to get healthy.

Although Daphne Dortch was overweight her entire life, it took a serious health scare to jump-start her journey to a healthy future. Along the way, this single mom from Evanston got care and guidance from expert physicians at NorthShore and motivation from a national TV show.

Dortch woke from a sound sleep one night in 2006 to a loud thump, which she realized was coming from inside her. She could not get out of bed, could not stand and felt like she could not breathe. Terrified, she called an ambulance and was rushed to Evanston Hospital.

She was quickly diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (A-fib), an irregular heart rhythm caused by a problem with the heart’s electrical system. A-fib is dangerous because it increases the risk of stroke and can lead to heart failure.

Dortch’s cardiologist, Alfredo Gonzalez, MD, referred her for a sleep study as it became clear that her A-fib occurred only while she was asleep. NorthShore neurologist and sleep medicine expert Thomas Freedom, MD, confirmed that Dortch had sleep apnea, causing her to stop breathing periodically during the night. Both physicians hold academic titles at the Pritzker School of Medicine.

Dr. Freedom prescribed a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine— the gold standard for sleep apnea treatment— which delivers pressurized air to keep the airway open. Almost immediately Dortch began sleeping better and avoiding A-fib incidents; however, she knew she needed to address the root of her problem and start losing weight.

“She saw the light on her own,” said Dr. Gonzalez. “I give her credit. We pointed her in the right direction, but she did the work.”

Daphne Dortch at 326 pounds

Dortch hit a top weight of 326 pounds. “I knew I had to get the weight off or I would die,” she said.

“I was so mad at myself,” recalled Dortch. “I worried every day. I knew I had to get the weight off or I would die.” Initially she started exercising more, but Dortch admits she was slow to change a lifetime of bad eating habits. At her highest weight, she was 326 pounds. She got down to 271 pounds but was frustrated at her inability to lose more. Then in 2011, she and her brother Adrian auditioned for the hit TV show “The Biggest Loser,” which would more dramatically change their lives.

They were selected as a brother-sister team for Season 13, which aired in 2012. Losing a challenge in the first episode, Dortch and her brother were sent home with a challenge to lose a combined 50 pounds in a month. Triumphant, they lost 60 and were invited back to “The Biggest Loser” ranch.

Dortch lasted until week eight on the elimination-style contest. The lessons she learned were invaluable, and she ended the finale weighing in at 183. Today she continues to lose weight, feels great and has parlayed her own weight-loss success into a new career with her recently launched company, Conquerall Fitness. “I have a passion for this, and I want to help others lose weight and get fit,” she said. “I see others with the kind of hurt and pain I had, and I want to tell them if I can do it, you can do it. Don’t miss out on the possibilities.”

Recalling multiple trips to the Emergency Department at Evanston Hospital, Dortch is quick to thank the team of people who cared for her. “I felt like I knew all the Emergency staff and they were great,” she said. Dortch also has high praise for both Dr. Freedom and Dr. Gonzalez, though she is pleased she no longer needs cardiac medication and is not dependent on a CPAP machine.