Morbidly obese woman dies after 3 airlines refused to fly her

Americans are getting fatter and fatter. At the rate we’re going, in 18 years, by the year 2030, more than 4 of every 10, or 42% of Americans may become obese and 11% could be severely obese.

Obesity is more than being over weight. These terms are defined by the body mass index (BMI), a measurement that is closely related to both percentage body fat and total body fat:

  • “Normal weight” means a BMI of 18.5–24.9
  • “Over weight” means a BMI of 25.0–29.9
  • “Obesity” means a BMI of 30.0–34.9
  • “Severe obesity” means a BMI of 35.0–39.9
  • “Morbid obesity” means a BMI of 40 or over

To calculate your BMI, click here!

One woman found out she was, at 425 lbs., too fat to fly. She was turned down by three commercial airlines for a flight from Hungary back to the United States. Stuck in Hungary, her already poor health worsened, resulting in her death and likely a lawsuit against the airlines.

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Jill Reilly reports for the Daily Mail, Nov. 26, 2012, that on September 17, 56-year-old Vilma Soltesz (see photos, left and below) traveled with her husband Janos from New York to their holiday home in their native Hungary. It was a trip the couple made every year.

Vilma was already severely obese and in poor health from diabetes and kidney disease. She had lost a leg and used a wheelchair.

The couple had planned to return to New York after a month at the vacation home they owned in the Hungarian countryside, so Vilma could continue medical treatment for her diseases. Meanwhile, Vilma had put on even more weight while in Hungary, which her husband claims was water weight caused by her kidney disease and diabetes.

Janos recounted that on October 15, Vilma was kicked off her first flight. She was already seated on the KLM plane when they were asked to leave. The airline tried to fit her into the back of the plane, but they didn’t have a seat-belt extension to secure her. KLM also told the couple the seat back could not take Vilma’s weight.

After leaving the airplane, the couple waited in the airport for several hours and then were told to drive five hours to Prague for a Delta plane that could accommodate her as a disabled person.

But in Prague, Delta staff told the couple the airline’s plastic wheelchair could not hold her weight and the staff also couldn’t put her on the sky-lift elevator.

The couple were forced to return to their Hungarian holiday home until their New York travel agent managed to get them on an October 22 Lufthansa flight to New York via Frankfurt, which would be able to accommodate her size.

Although Lufthansa had set aside three seats for Vilma, a local fire department brought in to help move her, could not lift her out of the wheelchair into the plane seats.

After half an hour of trying to move her, the captain asked them to leave the plane. Lufthansa spokesman Nils Haupt said, “We had 140 passengers on board, and they had connections and needed to travel. The question was never the seat belt. The question was the mobility of the passenger.”

Chuck Bennett reports for the New York Post that the couple again went back to the vacation home to make other arrangements as Vilma became sicker and sicker. Neither trusted the doctors in Hungary, especially because they wouldn’t be familiar with her lengthy medical history, Janos said.

Two days later, Janos found Vilma dead, and buried her in Hungary.

Now the couple’s attorney, Holly Ostrov Ronai, is considering a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the airlines accusing them of violating laws protecting the disabled.

Struggle: In Prague although a local fire department were brought into to help move Mr Soltesz into three seats assigned to her, they could not lift her out of the wheelchair In Prague, a local fire department were brought into to help move Vilma.

Predicament: Mrs Soltesz had gained weight due to her illness and the airline said it did not have a seat-belt extender for her according to her husband Vilma and Janos Soltesz in the airport.

Difficulty: Mrs Soltesz struggling to get in the car Vilma Soltesz struggling to get in the car.

It should be noted that Vilma’s illnesses, especially diabetes, likely stemmed from her obesity. Extra weight takes a huge toll on our health, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, many types of cancer, sleep apnea, senile dementia, and other debilitating and chronic illnesses. Obesity is also one of the leading preventable causes of death worldwide. On average, obesity reduces life expectancy by 6 to 7 years.

Read more on obesity-associated morbidity here.

~Eowyn

18 responses to “Morbidly obese woman dies after 3 airlines refused to fly her

  1. Not to sound too rude, but if they could afford a holiday house out of the country,couldn’t they afford a private jet home?..

  2. Maybe they should have brought their own seatbelt extension, knowing her situation? Or called to make sure it was available?

  3. She was also a hazard to other passengers. Had there been an emergency and her husband tried to get her out, others would not be able to get out.

    • Frankly, given her obesity and her kidney disease and diabetes, it was unwise of the couple to travel so far away from their home and familiar hospital in New York. It’d be interesting to see how this lawsuit turns out.

  4. It sounds like the airlines made a good faith effort to accomodate her and should not be held responsible. That said, I take issue with blaming her diabetes on her obesity. Once a person develops diabetes (to which a number of factors contribute) it is extremely hard to lose weight. Even skipping meals can result in the liver producing glucose to compensate, driving blood sugar up rather than down. With blood sugar high, the body converts sugar to fat and stores it. Diabetes and obesity should best be seen as a spiral, with each condition exacerbating the other.

    • IGT,

      Thanks for pointing out that sometimes diabetes can exacerbate a weight problem. Certainly, being obese and getting diabetes is not a perfect positive correlation, but to outright deny that obesity does not make a person more prone to developing diabetes goes against whatever scientific-medical evidence we have, which do point to a strong relationship. From a NYT article:

      “Carrying excess weight is clearly linked to Type 2 diabetes. Nationwide, more than half of adults with the disease are obese, and 30 percent or more are overweight. Being obese not only makes the disease more likely, but is also associated with worse control of blood sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol, which in turn makes cardiovascular disease more likely. But studies have also shown that a minority of Type 2 diabetics — perhaps 15 to 20 percent — are neither overweight nor obese, a phenomenon that researchers do not fully understand.”

  5. Please forgive me if this sounds insensitive, but…drive your seriously ill, obese wife from pillar to post trying to stuff her into one car and airplane after another, REFUSE TO TAKE HER TO A DOCTOR, claim to “find her dead,” and then file a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against one or more huge corporations who have deep pockets, obviously no culpability in the situation whatsoever, but who no doubt would love to pay you some portion of that exorbitant blackmail just to make you go away…rather than face the politically correct legal system…

    Anybody else smell anything?

  6. I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes nearly 20 years ago, and have never been what you would call overweight.

    Funny, as I have gone from a 36″ waist to a 30″ waist over the last 6 months.

    Maybe there is something else going on within me I am not exactly aware of.

    -Dave.

  7. Unintentional weight loss is a definite “check engine” light.

  8. When the kidneys stop working, you balloon up. This poor woman died of renal failure. Notice how none of her clothes fit. She didn’t start out that way. I’m surprised more readers didn’t catch this. My mother suffered from renal failure and all that toxic waste build up made this woman look small! And my mom was a small woman to start with. They had to get through five inches or more of swollen shoulder puffiness to put in a shunt. I wouldn’t have been able to recognize her in the hospital. Then, with dialysis, she was almost down to normal size, only about 20 pounds over normal for her.

    If she could have gotten to a dr., none of this would have happened.

  9. There’s no inherent ‘right to fly’. At the point where she’s that heavy, has already lost a leg to diabetes, and has kidney failure, she was a time bomb. Attempting to fly commercially given all these issues was incredibly insensitive to the other people on the plane, all of whom had their own lives to attend to. If you need a dozen people to lift you out of your chair, take the hint and get control of things. There is evidence that a raw food vegan diet will ‘cure’ diabetes in a matter of days or weeks, but of course that requires some education and commitment. Too bad the family didn’t spend their money on this, rather than a vacation house and triple airline tickets.

  10. Geesh, the vegan thing again. It’s all over the Internet.

    A “raw food vegan diet”, which is a raw vegetables and fruit and nothing else is one of those age old purifying, “moral” diets that we Westerners are so found of. It has little or no connection to our current understanding of our own biochemistry.

    Believe it or not, the woman was probably severely malnurished in her condition. The weight load from carrying around all that fat put a huge strain on her system. It’s highly probable that calories she did consume did not contain enough protein, vitamins or minerals. (There are several fat-soluble vitamins, which is one of the many reasons that plant-only diets don’t work well long term.) “Why We Get Fat” by Gary Taubes has an excellent explanation of adult obesity as a nutritional deficiency/disorder.

    Honestly, the woman was having so many issues I’m not sure I would arm chair Doctor and say diet was going to solve everything, although it was clear that it would have been a major component with her health issues. Flying to Hungry was foolish in that condition at any rate.

  11. This is another case of an obese person blaming everyone but themselves for all the problems that come with being morbidly obese. In this case her husband is looking to lay blame on someone. Why didn’t he help her before she got so big?

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