VALENTINE, Neb. (AP) _ Sixteen months after he checked into Avera McKennan Hospital weighing half a ton and near death, Patrick Deuel has dropped the equivalent of two National Football League linemen.
Now the 43-year-old Valentine man, who has taken an agent to help sell his story, would simply like to lose the massive paunch drooping over his belt.
Called a ``panniculus,'' the mass of sagging skin, fat and fluids weighs between 70 and 100 pounds and hangs past his knees, particularly on the right side, impeding his ability to walk.
``When I lose weight, I lose it from everywhere but here,'' Deuel says as he sits on the couch in his town house and places his hands on the overhang. ``There's no muscle in this thing. So when I move, it pulls on my back so bad. I have to push it out of the way with my knee when I walk. I'm really ready to be rid of it.''
That problem developed as Deuel melted away from the 1,072 pounds he weighed when he came to Avera McKennan June 4, 2004, until this autumn, when the scale showed him at 467 pounds _ a loss of 605 pounds.
Dr. Fred Harris, the Sioux Falls physician who performed gastric-bypass surgery a year ago on Deuel, hopes to do a tummy tuck on him within the next six months. Deuel would like it to happen sooner but thinks Harris wants him to lose more so they don't have to repeat the procedure with any future weight loss.
``I've told him if he doesn't move up when we're going to do this surgery, I'm going to have to put Ex-Lax in his cornflakes,'' Deuel says with a smile.
Losing the paunch has several ramifications. For one, it will make it easier for him to walk, exercise and thus keep the weight off. When he returned to Valentine last Jan. 22, Deuel weighed 610 pounds. During the next 75 days, thanks to his eating habits and his ability to walk, he shed another 102 pounds.
But as the skin stretched more and the overhang grew, the strain on his back intensified, and Deuel found his belly bouncing off his knees to be too cumbersome.
So his exercise diminished, and his weight loss did, too, though he says he still is losing 10 pounds a month on eating habits alone.
Of course, becoming more mobile will enhance his public speaking and marketing opportunities as well. Deuel says he already has received several hundred to several thousand dollars to appear on news shows and documentaries produced by companies in Germany and England.
One such documentary, done by a London-based firm called Menthorn, appeared on The Learning Channel in the past few weeks. He and his wife used part of that appearance fee to buy a used van.
Deuel says he is entertaining opportunities with television companies in Japan and Australia, too, as well as with newspapers and magazines.
``As soon as I get this surgery'' on the panniculus, ``Oprah wants me to come on,'' he says. ``I've got an agent now. I mean, I've got these TV shows and documentaries that want to give me money to make my story. What's that worth? I don't know.''
Figuring that out is up to a Michigan-based agent he found through a friendship he developed with Rosalie Bradford, a Florida woman who weighed 1,199 pounds in 1987 before she lost a Guinness World Record of 917 pounds.
That Deuel continues to lose weight is a point of immense satisfaction for him and his doctor. News reports that came out shortly after his return to Valentine in late January suggested that he was slipping into old routines and struggling with his diet.
Harris says he was concerned with those reports, especially since the life expectancy of the half-ton man he first met in the summer of 2004 was measured in weeks, not months, because of out-of-control weight, diabetes and high blood pressure.
``There was a concern that he would fall into his old ways. ... the worry that he might begin to graze, sucking up calories by eating small quantities all day long,'' Harris says.
Part of that concern rose out of Deuel's resumption of smoking _ a vice that continues. But Harris has learned in the months since Deuel left Sioux Falls that everything he reads and hears through the media about his patient might not be a totally accurate reflection. His patient has continued to lose weight. And his diabetes and high-blood pressure are easily controlled now.
``I think Patrick likes to get a reaction out of the press,'' Harris says. ``He's not beyond dangling a cigarette or picking up a Twinkie to put a show on for the press.''
Harris insists he would have been happy if Deuel never lost another pound after he left the hospital. In fact, his weight has fallen 150 pounds since then.
That's a result of the surgery that reduced the size of his stomach, Harris says. It's a reflection of the exercise he was able to do and of his dedication to a low-fat, low-sodium, high-protein diet that includes a lot of cod, chicken, shrimp and refried beans.
And it comes about as well because he doesn't agonize over his cravings, Deuel says. If he is hungry for a fish fillet from McDonald's with a small order of fries and a strawberry shake, he doesn't agonize over that urge.
He will simply eat it in moderate proportions.
``And then I'm right back to eating low fat, low sodium, high protein,'' he says. ``It may temporarily slow down my weight loss a little, but the weight loss doesn't stop. And the craving doesn't get too bad for me.
``What it does do is keep me from committing a felonious raid on McDonald's.''
There is another subtle factor in his success. His wife, Edith, went through the same surgery with Harris this past July 6 to have her stomach downsized.
As a result, she has dropped from 272 to 230 pounds on her way to what she hopes is 150 pounds on her 5-foot-3 frame.
``It was a way for me to lose the weight and for Patrick and I to get on the same lifestyle as far as how and what we eat,'' says Edith Deuel, 57, a high school counselor at St. Francis Indian School on the Rosebud Reservation. ``I feel better. I can move around better, too. So I'm glad I did it.''
Patrick Deuel says he'd like to reach 240 pounds, ``because I weighed 240 pounds in sixth grade, and I liked sixth grade.''
Actually, he figures that kind of success might help him out on the motivational speaking tour. It might land him a gig as a company spokesman. He's already writing and polishing potential speeches on his computer.
But the truth is, Deuel says he knows he will have reached his goal _ whatever that is _ when he can rise by himself out of bed each morning, get dressed, climb in the van, go visit friends, walk up the steps into their homes and sit in a chair without fear of breaking it.
He will have arrived when he doesn't need his ``chore provider'' _ a woman who comes into his home five days a week to prepare his meals, to do laundry, and to dust and vacuum and perform other odd jobs.
``When I reach the point when I can be like anyone else,'' he says, ``then I know I'll be there, whatever weight that is.''