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Transatlantic love hits Orange

A TV documentary leads to life-changing plan

  • submitted photo<br/>What started as a simple offer of support for an English man, became love for Rebecca Mountain of Orange.

    submitted photo
    What started as a simple offer of support for an English man, became love for Rebecca Mountain of Orange.

  • submitted photo<br/>What started as a simple offer of support for an English man, became love for Rebecca Mountain of Orange.

ORANGE — When Rebecca Mountain reached out through cyberspace and across an ocean to help Paul Mason, once dubbed by British newspapers as the heaviest man on earth, she was determined to help him get the treatment he needs for a normal life — but she never dreamed she would fall in love with him.

After hundreds of hours of Skype conversations since August, their transatlantic online romance has blossomed.

“Our personalities just clicked,” Mountain says of her first few interactions with Mason. While she acknowledges it usually “takes weeks or months for trust to build with a couple … we were able to get to a deep emotional level very quickly … we’re super compatible.”

The couple plans to meet in person at Mason’s home in England this fall.

Following gastric bypass surgery several years ago, Mason has nearly reached his target weight, but is plagued with complications from losing hundreds of pounds. Once his health stabilizes, he plans to relocate to America and live with Mountain.

Mountain opened the door to her workshop where she builds eco-friendly cat furniture and toys for online and retail sales around the country. She led the way through a maze of commercial power saws and drills to a small back office. It was the end of one of many long days in recent weeks filling orders for her burgeoning cottage industry, and she sank into her chair.

A few goats browsed in the bushes outside her office window as her old, gentle dog settled on a padded mat beside her desk. The high-pitched screeching sound outside, Mountain explained, was her rooster’s alarm call announcing someone new had come onto the property.

The cat furniture business is the first job Mountain has had that doesn’t involve animals. She worked hands-on with animals since she was 15 years old.

“I am a very compassionate person,” she said, “but it usually comes out more with animals.”

She said her empathy for Mason’s plight catalyzed the connection between them.

Mountain first learned about Mason in 2009 through a documentary. In the film, he was preparing for a gastric bypass operation to reduce the size of his stomach and prevent him from overeating.

Weighing 980 pounds, Mason was unable to burn off the 20,000 calories he packed in each day as a symptom of his food addiction.

At that time, Mason was bedridden, requiring 24 hours of nursing care a day. Mountain said when she first saw the documentary, she had the same feelings she believes many people experience when they see people who are obese.

“I was never someone who made fun of heavy people but I am someone who’s been very judgmental … I thought, how could he let this happen to himself?”

But that was before she understood the unique challenges of food addiction. “Paul’s plight really opened my eyes … obesity is such a huge problem and should be addressed more … little kids (who are obese) don’t stand a chance.”

According to Mountain, people with other addictions “can live the rest of their lives without drugs or alcohol or nicotine…but you have to eat every day. ... there’s all those temptations.”

She said Mason’s personality and determination inspired her. “I remember rooting for him, and thinking, I hope he makes it (through the operation) and succeeds” with his weight loss.

This summer, Mountain saw some follow-up media coverage on him.

After the 2010 operation, Mason lost 670 pounds. And while he has maintained the weight loss, his health problems are far from over.

Roughly 100 pounds of loose skin now hang from his limbs and abdomen, preventing him from walking. Mountain said that when someone loses a few pounds, the excess skin usually shrinks back, but that’s not the case when someone loses hundreds of pounds.

Mason also struggles with chronic infections as a result of the excess skin.

England’s National Health Service told him he may need to wait years for the operations. A plastic surgeon in New York City volunteered her services if he can travel to the hospital where she works. Mason calculates he needs to raise about $20,000 to pay for hospitalization, anesthesia and travel.

That’s when Mountain got involved.

“I thought, I’m a pretty creative person … I could do something.” With the social media skills she learned in marketing her business, she decided to help him set up a web page to raise funds for the operation.

Mountain emailed two UK reporters who covered Mason in hopes of getting his contact information.

After many failed efforts, one of her Google searches uncovered a link to Mason on Facebook. She contacted him immediately.

Speaking to The Recorder via Skype, Mason said he at first wondered why an American woman was so intent on helping him. “I was a bit cautious,” he admitted.

After a brief email exchange he was convinced she was sincere, and asked if she wanted to Skype with him.

Because of the severity of his weight problems, Mountain said she “wouldn’t have been surprised if he had been insecure or reserved or nervous, but he was exactly the opposite … he was just so open.”

“We really bring out each other’s personalities,” Mason agreed. He admired Mountain’s “determination and intelligence … we have a lot of common interests as we both like to work with our hands.” Mason makes jewelry and cut-paper greeting cards.

After three hours of Skyping, Mason asked her what time she wanted to talk the following day.

Mountain, who describes herself as “very independent,” was a little surprised to find herself eagerly agreeing to talk to Mason again so soon.

While she dated in the past, Mountain said she never found a deep connection with other men. “I got exhausted with dating. ... The people I would date … I didn’t like myself as much when I was with them.”

At the end of another four-hour Skype conversation with Mason, she blurted out, “I really like you.”

In what he describes as “an old-fashioned courtship,” Mason and Mountain Skype daily, sometimes several hours in the morning and several hours again at night. With the time difference, Mason may stay up talking until dawn. “The time flies by,” he said.

Mountain said many people look for romantic partners “based on superficial things … like looks and money … but that means possibly overlooking what could be an amazing relationship”

“Looks are a bonus,” he agreed. “A lot of people jump into a relationship because of physical attraction, but you can’t have a purely physical relationship … so therefore, it’s doomed.”

Mountain accepts the risk that Mason’s mobility may not improve following the skin removal operations. “If he is in a wheelchair for the rest of his life — that wouldn’t bother me.”

She added the difficulties Mason encountered in his life made him the person she loves. “What surprises me about Paul is that he has a really amazing handle on who he is and what makes a relationship work.”

Mason said that his emotional insights came as a result of therapy following his operation. Counseling uncovered childhood sexual and physical abuse as the root causes of his food addiction, and helped him understand his vulnerabilities and deepest needs.

“Therapy really put me on the right road … I learned what I wanted most in life … and to go after it.”

Mountain said she is looking forward to spending time with Mason in all the ways couples normally do, such as going for a walk or having dinner together. Mason looks forward to cooking for her and helping her expand her business in Orange.

Editor’s note: The fundraising webpage http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/help-paul-complete-his-extraordinary-journey/90734 describes Mason’s battle with food addiction. The page includes some graphic images of Mason.

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