Norfolk, Va. - You might be thinking that shopping in a grocery store for healthy food isn't a luxury most homeless people have. It’s something the thousands of homeless men and women in Hampton Roads probably cannot afford to do.
But Neal Shytles is not your typical homeless person.
“Healthy food is more expensive, a lot more expensive than regular food,” he says.
Neal weighs close to 500 pounds.
“I’m carrying around almost 300 pounds more than I’m supposed to be carrying,” he says.
And that 300 pounds is something he hopes to lose through getting gastric bypass surgery.
You’re probably wondering how a homeless person is able to get such an expensive operation...
Neal says he has high blood pressure, is borderline diabetic and suffers from sleep apnea. Those conditions, he says, qualified him for the surgery.
“Hopefully the surgery will help me get rid of those conditions,” he says.
Neal says he didn’t have insurance until he became homeless. An infection in his leg forced him to go to the emergency room last year, where he says the hospital signed him up for Medicaid.
In the last two decades, Neal says he packed on more than 150 pounds, brought on by poor eating, a sedentary lifestyle when he worked, and now homelessness.
“I just ballooned up,” Neal says.
In order to even get the operation, Neal says he has to lose up to 40 pounds.
He uses money from a monthly social security check to pay for his healthier new diet.
Neal believes this surgery is his key to getting off the streets and getting a job.
We first told you about Neal back in November. He came to NewsChannel 3 to help find a family for the holidays.
“I am lonely like 365 days a year but Christmas and Thanksgiving are two of the worst days,’' he told us.
Neal’s plea went viral worldwide. Viewers took action, not just providing a Thanksgiving meal, but gifts from as far away as Germany and Britain. However, most importantly to Neal, his story has provided him new friendships.
“The story really has done a lot,” he says. “It’s built relationships.”
Now Neal is taking action to help himself. But doctors say it’s not going to be easy.
“It’s not the easy way out by any stretch of the imagination,” says Dr. David Spencer.
Dr. Spencer is not Neal’s doctor, but is a bariatric surgeon at Chesapeake Regional Medical Center.
“I think that it would be incredibly hard for someone in his situation,” he says.
Simple things like getting rides to appointments and paying for vitamins, Dr. Spencer says will be difficult.
However, Missy Mounie, who helps prepare patients for the operation, says she’s dealt with patients like Neal. She says this surgery changes lives.
“That’s what we see,” she says. “People become productive members of society.”
She says having a support system is crucial – something many homeless men don’t have.
But again, Neal is different.
“The people online, all these women are supporting me,” he says.
He documents his progress online, posting photos of his meals. It’s also inspired others to eat healthy too. He wonders, though, if that encouragement will be enough. If he doesn’t lose the weight, Neal says he won’t be approved for the surgery.
So, how is it fair a homeless man can get this surgery? Is it worth your taxpayer dollars?
Neal says it’s not a handout, it’s the help he needs.
“So I can get out there in the workplace and work a whole lot more,” he says.
He has until May to achieve his goal.
“It’s all for the better, it’s nothing for the worse. It’s to improve me.”