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Karmyn's story

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MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCIV) – For people who think it's hard to lose weight as an adult, think about what it's like to be a kid. Food choices are made for them and it's hard to say no to sweets and treats.

That's why experts say adults play an important role in battling childhood obesity. That's no more evident than in the story of Karmyn Richardson.

Karmyn came into the world six weeks too soon.

"She was 4 pounds, 15 ounces – so tiny then and she could fit in your hands," her mother Ashley said. "She always had chubby little cheeks."

But as she grew, so did her mother's worries.

"Around maybe like two or three, that's when I finally seen that she was starting to gain weight," she said.

The chubby-cheeked baby with big eyes and curls was quickly outgrowing her princess gowns. Her mom hoped doctors would be able to explain what was happening.

"Every time we would go I knew she was getting bigger and we'd look at the scales and they're kind of like wow, but they would never say anything," she said.

So she turned to Dr. Deborah Bowlby, a childhood obesity specialist. Bowlby's assessment was not good.

"So this is a 5-year-old whose weight is at the weight that a typical 14-year-old would be at," she told Ashley.

Karmyn is the size of a teenager; it's something Ashley knew was alarming.

"I knew because me and Karmyn weigh almost the same thing," she said.

But what Karmyn's mom didn't know is how confusing that extra weight can by for her daughter's developing body.

"So puberty, normally girls don't have a lot of puberty before age eight," Bowlby said. "Now like what if her body thinks that it's time, what are we going to do?  She's five."

On a recent checkup with Dr. Bowlby, there were no signs of puberty starting. But Karmyn does have trouble breathing.

"And there's something called obstructive sleep apnea where children, they're sleeping at night, they just can't breathe and they can sometimes stop breathing," Bowlby said.

Another concern for Ashley was diabetes. "It's a huge fear because I have it."

Bowlby delivered a little bit more good news – Karmyn did not show signs of being diabetic either.

"I was very relieved and terrified at the same time because there is obviously something wrong," Ashley said.

That suspicion that something is terribly wrong is unfortunately all too common for Dr. Bowlby.

"Some of the cases that we see are children that are not just 10, 20, 30 pounds overweight, but 100 pounds overweight," she said. "We may see a 4-year-old who is so overweight that their legs have started to bow and that they need surgery."

But she says they are able to combat these obesity issues.

"There are lots of things we can do," Bowlby said.

For the fidgety 5-year-old, there are more tests. For her mom, there's a much closer look at her daughter's behavior.

"She was starting to sneak food. I could tell she was starting to do that because I would find wrappers in her room and stuff," Ashley said.

Ashley now knows this is not something her daughter will simply outgrow – she needs help.

"She can't ride the little bikes that the kids are riding. She can't get in a swing by herself; she has to have somebody help her," she said.

And her little girl is now bigger than her big brother.

"I have to buy her adult clothes and get them hemmed or buy Capri pants. I mean, it's things that you would think you'd never have to do for your child," she said.

And the weight problems are becoming social problems at school. Karmyn's having trouble fitting in.

"One day it broke my heart. The little girls had scarves because it was cold and they were wearing them like little belts, and Karmyn put her scarf around her like a belt and the girl said, ‘Well you're too fat to wear yours around your stomach.' And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, you did not,'" she said.

But it's her little girl's health that is always in the back of her mind. Ashley was diagnosed with diabetes at age 10 and she recently got some bad news.

"I found out that I have stage four renal kidney failure, so that's another obstacle we're facing," she said.

But she says they will face it together as a family the same way they'll confront Karmyn's obesity. Ashley is committed to helping Karmyn not only with her size or a way to fit in, but helping her find the right pieces for a long, healthy life.

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