A VHS tape that I thought was lost, was found by my husband during some spring cleaning. The video features Robert Hughes of Virginia Beach who took the town by storm several years ago when he lost 165 pounds.
"The Metamorphosis of Robert Hughes" is a nine-part series that begins in 1997 with home video of Hughes (in underwear) at 365 pounds. He twirls around for the camera, revealing rolls of body fat. He squeezes together the excess girth around his mid-section, and pulls on a pair of man boobs. It's hard to watch.
In part three he is down to 300 pounds, down to 230 pounds in part four, and he is a buff 215 pounds in part five. Part 8 features a story on WVEC-TV about his transformation which took place under the supervision of Dr. William Bethea of Norfolk.
Robert's real job is supervisor for a major roofing company, but he became such a hit in fitness circles, that a local gym hired him to recruit new clients. He was even featured in life-sized posters plastered around the gym that showed off his flat abs and bulging biceps.
The finale in the VHS tape is his 2003 appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
The segment features the amazing weight loss stories of several people who had gotten into shape by either gastric bypass surgery, or in Hughes' case, diet and exercise. What the viewers didn't know is that by the time Robert made it to Chicago to tape the show, he had already gained several pounds. He was up to 240 pounds by the time he sat on Oprah's couch.
The Queen of talk insisted on full disclosure, and told the audience Hughes had lost 145 pounds. He looked great on the set, and sported clothing, a haircut, and even new teeth provided by Harpo Productions.
This is where the video ends, but the incredible story of Robert Hughes continued to unfold.
A tenth chapter could have been titled "Hurricane Katrina: The Storm that Devastated the Gulf and Robert Hughes of Virginia Beach."
When Hurricane Katrina shredded the Gulf Coast in 2005, Robert and his roofing crew headed south to help with restoration efforts in the Mobile, Alabama area.
Six to seven days a week, his crew worked 12-hour days replacing roofs on shopping centers and large buildings in the region.
While the days were long, the lunch hour, nights and weekends were filled with foods such as fried chicken, fried okra, fried fish, homemade rolls, and homemade pies.
Nine months later, the Gulf coast was on the mend, but Robert Hughes was a disaster.
He returned to Virginia Beach, and in an examination by Dr. Bethea, Hughes checked in at 300 pounds. According to Hughes, Dr. Bethea (now retired) was livid. His doctor warned him that he would die at the age of 52, or 55 at the most, if he didn't lose weight.
Robert turns 55-years-old on June 5.
Even after the scared-straight talk from Dr. Bethea, Robert continued to gain weight. By early March of this year, he weighed about 415 pounds.
Back to the VHS tape.
After finding the tape, I decided to track down Robert to check on his health. This is where the story gets "spooky" to use Robert's term.
Around the same time that I found the tape, Robert says sat down to watch 13News Now. Upon seeing me on the set, he says he starting talking to the television screen as if I could hear him.
His via TV chat went something like this: "Regina if you could see me now, you would really be disappointed.. now that would really be a GOOD story.. to see how I got back in this condition."
The following Monday, I searched Robert's name on the internet and found a phone number for his office. I left a message on his voice mail system asking whether he kept the weight off, and whether he would agree to a follow-up interview.
Robert now tells me he was flabbergasted when he retrieved my voice mail message.
"How on earth could that be? I was just talking to a flat two dimensional image of Regina Mobley, and the next Monday you called me," said Hughes.
In a telephone conversation, Robert filled me in on what has happened to him over the past 17 years. And, yes, he was right, The incredible story of Robert Hughes does make for good news copy, but it is a story that should be told with caution and care.
After our conversation, Robert decided to reclaim his life by adopting a healthy diet and simply walking to get back in shape.
Ashamed of his condition, Robert started walking around Mt Trashmore Park, in the dark of the early morning hours. He could only walk a few blocks at first, but in a few weeks he could walk more than mile.
His diet consists of a smoothie made of vegetables and fruit for breakfast, a salad for lunch, and a veggie burger and Ezekiel bread for dinner. He drinks a gallon of water each day, and Fiber One bars for snacks.
Too big for your average bathroom scale, Robert went to a scrap metal yard to jump on the scale there. On March 31 Robert checked in at 405 pounds, and by April 28 he was down to 395 pounds.
A lot has changed since the days of VHS, so at my urging, Robert agreed to start a Facebook page to chronicle his journey to get back in shape, and to inspire others to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
Robert turns 55 years old this year, and is worried he may not be around to help is 29-year-old daughter. The specter of death haunts him. In May, one of his best friends, dropped dead while raking leaves. He had just watched is daughter graduate from college.
I've learned as a journalist, sometimes you only have to pause during and interview, and the truth pours out. In a recent telephone interview Robert admitted something that he has never discussed in the 17 years that I have known him. Robert told me he suffers from depression, and that he has used food over the years as his feel-good drug.
Over the years his evenings would often include binge eating episodes. His favorite food-as-a- drug was Puerto Rican-style beans and rice. Until a few weeks ago, he would down up to five quarts of the dish over 24 hours.
His postings on Facebook reveal a sense of urgency as Robert is learning interaction on social media forces you to revisit the various layers of your life.
"People from my high school era have connected with me on Facebook. I was the valedictorian...the number one athlete..people are asking how can this be [weight gain]?", said Hughes.
Robert understands that he desperately needs medical supervision, but he struggles to stay current with his new health insurance premiums. Once his coverage is restored, he will return to a doctor's office.
Until then, Robert is trying to save his own life without professional help.
Editor's Note: You can follow the Incredible Story of Robert Hughes on WVEC.COM, FACEBOOK, AND TWITTER. The 1997 VHS tape "The Transformation of Robert Hughes", is posted on WVEC.COM. See his incredible before and after pictures.