Big Joe’s a loser and he’s glad
BIG Joe Tertzakian didn't know it, but he was living on borrowed time.
"He was 275 kilograms and he was going to die before he was 40," leading laparoscopic surgeon and obesity management specialist Dr Reza Adib said.
During his days as coach Joey Wright's right hand man at the Brisbane Bullets and again at the Gold Coast, Tertzakian's weight ballooned to a dangerous 275kg - more than 600 pounds in the old scale.
But fate intervened, and his deep love of basketball and a bottle of wine led to a chance meeting with a stranger at Brisbane's Auchenflower Stadium - a meeting that almost certainly saved his life.
Big Joe celebrated his 40th birthday three months ago with the prospect of a long life ahead.
"I've got my life back," said Tertzakian, now a mere shadow of the man he was two years ago when grossly obese and spiralling towards 300kg ... and a potential medical catastrophe.
Wright says everyone worried about Big Joe's health.
"We tried everything for years - from just going on walks with him on road trips, to light workouts and a few boxing sessions just to try and help his lifestyle," Wright said.
"Eventually he got to a point where he wanted no part of it."
The coach recalled an occasion when a highly frustrated and angry Bullets player Simon Kerle tried to give Tertzakian a blunt message, which also fell on deaf ears.
"Simon confronted Big Joe and said, 'You're going to die and I won't go to your funeral. You know why? Because if you don't care, why should I?'," Wright recalled.
"They were pretty harsh words, but they were true."
Tertzakian admits he was in denial as he got bigger and bigger.
When he travelled with the team, which was quite frequently, he'd book two seats for himself on the plane.
He could barely squeeze his massive frame behind the wheel of his car and, although he finds it embarrassing to admit publicly, he could not wipe his own bottom.
However despite all these obstacles and other major mobility issues, he continued to tell himself it was "only a kilogram here and there".
"You know, at the time it was easier to pay for an extra seat on the plane than admit I had to do something about my weight," Tertzakian, now the executive officer of Darwin Basketball, told APN.
"The message I want to get out there to people who may be struggling with their weight is, you don't have to live that way."
Tertzakian's life changed forever at Brisbane's Auchenflower Stadium late in 2013.
"This man approached me and said, 'Hey, Big Joe, how you going? You don't know who I am, but you organised an extra bottle of wine for me in a corporate box at Bullets games'," he said.
"He then handed me a piece of paper with his name on it and said: 'Google me, and when I finish my game I will have a chat to you'."
Tertzakian Googled the name Reza Adib, who was the leading laparoscopic surgeon in Australia for obesity management procedures.
As he was leaving the stadium, Dr Adib, a huge Brisbane Bullets fan, said: "Hey Joe, did you Google me?"
"He then pointed to his head and said to me: 'When you get that right, come see me and I will fix you up," Joe said.
A few weeks later Joe and his Filipino mother Linda and Egyptian father Jim were sitting in Dr Adib's Wesley Hospital suite, discussing surgery.
"My mum started bawling her eyes out in his room. She just lost it. You never want to see your mum cry like that, ever," he said.
Next month - two years after life-changing surgery - Big Joe will have another operation to remove excess skin from his body that will see him hit his pre-op goal weight of 100kg - an astonishing loss of 175kg.
Tertzakian was spared the cruel, hurtful taunts obese people often encounter because he was such a popular figure within the basketball community.
However he says Brisbane and Australian forward Sam McKinnon hounded him relentlessly.
"Sam never let up on me," he said, able to appreciate and understand McKinnon's concern for his health.
"Every chance he got he'd get stuck into me about doing something about my weight.
"It got so annoying every time I saw Sam heading my way, I'd walk the other way to avoid another lecture.
"Now I understand why he was so determined. I really wish I had listened to him 10 years ago."
Tertzakian recently Facebooked a picture of himself back playing basketball at Auchenflower Stadium - his first game for 17 years.
The response from friends who turned out to support him on the night and from the basketball community to his picture proved overwhelming.
"I honestly didn't realise so many people cared." he said.
If you are concerned about your own, or someone else's weight issue, talk to your doctor or go to: healthdirect.gov.au/obesity