A divorcee who was adopted as a baby was inspired to lose six stone and investigate her DNA after a heart attack at 45 – and not only found her birth father but discovered her medical problem was hereditary.
By shedding six stone and going from an 18st 7lb size 26 to a 12st 10lb size 14 to 16, Amanda Davidson, 50, was also able to fit into a dress she had seen TV presenter Amanda Holden wearing on Britain’s Got Talent.
Mum-of-one Amanda, a chemical export co-ordinator, of Newport, Shropshire, said: “I’d always been very happy with my adoptive parents and had never felt the need to trace my birth mother and father.”
She added: “But, I lost weight, found my real dad and discovered I had a genetic heart condition. It’s amazing.”
A smoker since her early teens, Amanda did not even realise she was having a heart attack when she felt unwell as she walked to her local pub with her friend, back in August 2016.
She said: “I was sweating a lot and, in the pub, I decided I wasn’t feeling very well and was going home.”
Amanda continued: “My friend came with me, as she was worried and said she was going to call our local 111 phone line, known as Shrop Doc, and tell them my symptoms.
“They told her to call 999 as it sounded like I was having a heart attack and they were right,
“I’d just felt like I had a bit of a trapped nerve between my shoulder blades during the day and I couldn’t get comfy.”
She added: “No way did I think I was having a heart attack.”
In hospital for four days, she was fitted with a stent to stop her artery from narrowing.
She also had an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) fitted – to treat people with dangerously abnormal heart rhythms – in January 2017.
In the midst of her health worries, Amanda had another massive shock – this time a good one – when she decided to look into her DNA, partly hoping it would reveal clues about her health.
Always knowing she had been adopted and was half Eastern European, she said: “My adoptive dad used to tease me nicely, saying that maybe I was a Russian princess.
“I was very happy, so had not tried to find my birth parents. I knew my mother must have had a valid reason for giving me away.”
But, joining an ancestry site shortly after her heart attack, she forgot to tick the “no contact” box, only for her real dad – who she now knows as Stefan, 73, and is still working as an engineer – to have done exactly the same thing.
She said: “It was amazing, as he told me he was my dad and it turned out he was living just 40 miles away.
“Both my birth parents were born in the UK, but my mum’s parents and my dad’s father were Ukrainian.”
Breakfast - nothing
Lunch - sandwich and a packet of crisps from the lunch van at work
Snacks - lots of coffees, a slice of bread and butter, cheese
Dinner - a big portion of meals, e.g microwavable pasta dishes with creamy sauce
She continued: “She had given me away as my dad wasn’t the person she went on to share her life with.
“Not only did I get to meet half-sisters on his side, but I also met my mum’s family, which was amazing – although, sadly, everyone, my dad included, is camera shy.
“I discovered that my dad had a heart attack at 39 and I had a hereditary health problem.”
Amanda added: “My adoptive parents have really supported our relationship and it hasn’t altered my love for them in any way.”
More determined than ever to get herself well, in May 2017 after Amanda, whose daughter Alex Davidson, 23 – an engineer like her grandfather – lives in London, received an insurance payment enabling her to settle her mortgage, she quit work to concentrate on her health.
She said: “I was a sales and marketing manager for an export company.”
She added: “I wasn’t overly stressed, but I needed to get myself mentally and physically well.”
An on-off member of WeightWatchers – now WW – for years, in July 2017, after taking her first holiday alone for a week to Sicily, she joined again.
She said: “When I had my ICD fitted I was weighed for my records, but it was in kilograms and it didn’t mean anything to me.”
Amanda continued: “I converted it online and realised I was 18-and-a-half stone, which was massive.
“I’d already lost half a stone before my holiday and lost another 7lb during it, so was 17st 7lb when I joined the slimming club.”
At her 18st 7lb heaviest, Amanda had a body mass index (BMI) of 40.6, compared to the NHS healthy range of 18.5 to 24.9, making her obese.
But, while she quit her 20-a-day cigarette habit as soon as she had her heart attack, her resolve to lose weight had a shakier start.
Returning to work in August 2018 weighing around 15st 7lbs, she started missing meetings and by the time she joined WW again in March 2020, she had crept back up to 16st 9lbs.
She said: “Fortunately, my local WW opened a Saturday class., which I started going to.”
Amanda continued: “One of the problems with my heart condition is water retention, so I can put half a stone on because of it just during the day.
“But this time I was really serious and lost another four stone.
“I’m busty, so I am always going to be big on top – making me a size 16 to 18 sometimes – but I am a size 14 on the bottom and it’s the lightest I’ve been in 20 years.”
A self-confessed “food lover,” Amanda found the WW programme helpful, as it allows people to consume a variety of different meals, as long as they do not exceed a points allowance.
She said: “I’m a big food lover, so enjoy cooking and eating.
“I haven’t had to deprive myself of the food I love and can still enjoy a glass of wine, I’ve just learnt to do everything in moderation. Nothing is off-limits.”
Breakfast - yoghurt with fresh or frozen fruit and granola
Lunch - packed sandwich thins with tuna mayo and lettuce and a lighter packet of crisps
Snacks - banana or fruit
Dinner - fresh homemade meal, e.g. stir fry with lots of vegetables or healthier pasta dishes
She continued: “I love cheese, so I still have it – just not as much.
“Last night, I did a mushroom stir fry. Earlier in the week, I had enchiladas.
“I might even have a macaroni cheese ready meal if I’m busy. But, whereas before I might have bought three for the price of two and eaten them all, now I will just have one.”
Amanda added: “I even still have a packet of crisps most days, but I just check the calories and make sure they are low fat.
“And when I eat out, rather than going for a cheesy sauce, I will opt for a tomato one.”
One of the great markers of her success was the day when she was able to rock the same dress as Amanda Holden.
She had first spotted the dark blue belted shirt dress, with an orange flower print, when she was a size 26 and bought it in a size 18 when she was still too heavy to wear it.
She laughed: “It’s a fabulous dress.
“I bought it last July, with a view to fitting into it by November and wearing it to celebrate my 50th birthday that month.”
She continued: “But my birthday was the day before lockdown and it was still a little tight.
“Now I have no problem getting into it and I wore it to a belated get together with friends when restrictions were lifting in May. It felt fabulous.”
Walking has also played a big part in Amanda’s fitness drive.
For the last four years, she has completed a marathon for the British Heart Foundation, called MyMarathon – which does not need to be completed in one go.
With participants required to finish it within a month, usually, she would walk a mile and a half at a time and be exhausted by the end.
She said: “This year I did around three miles at a time and completed it in 15 days.”
Amanda continued: “Now, I can’t believe how far I’ve come.
“I was even smoking on the way to the pub while I was having a heart attack and I’ve licked that. I’ve lost all this weight and I’ve found a whole new family – as Stefan has three children.
“I’ll never forget when we first met and we were talking to someone with a two-year-old daughter. I heard him saying, ‘This is my eldest,’ and I suddenly realised he meant me.”
She added: “I feel no resentment to my birth mother for giving me away, as she felt she had a good reason and I love my adoptive family.
“But I’d never have expected a heart attack to lead to me finding a new body and a new family at the same time!”