A second chance at life
WOODSTOCK — Tom Murden has 200 reasons to keep living.
After losing nearly half his weight in the past two years, the 260-pound Woodstock native has found a new meaning in life.
Murden, 48, has dropped from 460 pounds to 260 pounds, and is back to being the lightest he’s been since graduating from Central in 1985.
“I feel like I’m 20 again,” he said.
In 2005, Murden said he was diagnosed with several maladies: an enlarged heart, an enlarged pair of lungs and a severely diseased liver.
As a custom homebuilder, Murden also saw the market sour and his business dry up. He sold his company, Art Construction Inc., and slid into a depression.
“I was just miserable,” he said. “I was just unbearable to be around.”
He took to binge eating and drinking to drown his depression, and only sank deeper and deeper into it. The deeper he sank, the more he ate and the heavier he became.
“I always told my kids to never give up,” he said. “And I’d see them walk out the door and kind of give me that look like, ‘Damn, there’s my old man,’ and they didn’t dare say nothing, but like ‘What is he doing giving up?'”
Murden wore 6XL-sized shirts, he struggled at getting out of his recliner and was a “prisoner to the bathroom.”
“When I went to fly, I was the guy who walked on the plane and people would say, ‘Oh no, he ain’t sitting beside me,'” Murden said. “I was the guy who had to raise his hand and needed a seat extension.”
As his future appeared hopeless, he said he would visit the Woodstock Tower and ponder how much his life was worth. He said he sat up in the tower three separate times, debating whether to end it all. The only thing keeping him from jumping were the faces of his wife and three children surfacing in his mind.
“Before all this happened to me, I didn’t believe in depression,” he said. “I thought, ‘Wipe your damn nose, pull your pants up by your belt loops and quit sniveling,’ and well, that’s completely wrong.”
Inspiration came in the words of Bob Workman, a Marine veteran and neighbor to Murden.
“Sometimes it’s better to retreat,” Murden remembers being told. “You don’t have to win every battle to win the war. Just go stand at ease and let everyone else do what they gotta do, and live to fight another day.”
So Murden heeded Workman’s advice. Murden quit smoking. He gave up drinking. And he looked at possible surgery options.
After consulting with numerous doctors, who wouldn’t even attempt to operate on him because he was too big, Murden found a lifesaver in Dr. Peter Hallowell.
The director of bariatric surgery at the University of Virginia Medical Center, Hallowell said he remembers Murden coming in at about 460 pounds, with liver issues, an oversized spleen and a low platelet count, all factors that contributed to an increasingly dangerous procedure.
“He was definitely on the scale as a high-risk guy for surgery,” Hallowell said.
Despite the dangers, Murden underwent a gastric sleeve surgery in April 2013.
Hallowell explained that during this type of surgery, the stretchy part of the stomach is removed and the stomach is narrowed into a thin tube about the size of an esophagus.
“Almost all of our patients have had some type of positive change in their life when they lose some weight, but he’s had a lot of great things happen to him and he’s really taken it to heart,” Hallowell said.
Before his surgery, Murden’s breakfast could easily be mistaken for a hotel buffet table.
“It was nothing for me to eat a half-pound of bacon, six eggs and four pieces of toast just for breakfast,” he said.
These days, he said, a typical breakfast for him might consist of a cup of yogurt with blueberries, grapes and almonds.
He doesn’t drink anything beside water and green tea and hasn’t touched a cigarette or alcohol in four years.
“There are a lot of things I want to accomplish that I thought were out of my grasp three years ago,” Murden said.
For example, he wants to see his daughter graduate from college. He wants to walk her down the aisle at her wedding. And he wants to see his two sons become fathers.
Before his road to recovery, Murden tried riding the stand-up roller coaster at King’s Dominion, but the harness couldn’t latch for his mammoth frame.
Last year, when his daughter graduated from high school, he returned to the theme park.
“The first ride I went on was that thing and I got off of it and I ran over and did it again,” he said.
Murden has a 30-year class reunion coming up this fall, and has been told he’s a favorite to win one of the superlatives: “most unrecognizable.”
And recently, he’s received his building license and permits for his new homebuilding business, William T. Murden Construction Inc.
Today, Murden steps on a scale each morning to monitor his weight. He said he has about 15 pounds left to lose.
“When I first started this thing, I couldn’t get a scale to weigh me,” he said. “If I wanted to be weighed, I had to go down to where they ship heavy packages or the feed store.”
He often spends his days walking long distances and cycling around town in 26-mile loops.
“If you would’ve told me five years ago I would do that, I would’ve asked you where you bumped your head at,” he said.
The weight loss isn’t without its consequences. Murden has to wear a compression shirt when he bikes, or the loose skin around his stomach can hang down to his knees.
“And it’s kind of a head game to see yourself in the mirror,” he said, “but I wouldn’t change it.”
Murden said he hopes his journey will help inspire others, including his three kids, to persevere in the face of adversity.
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or email@example.com