VA teen loses 166 pounds, becomes model for commercials

Published: Nov. 1, 2016 at 2:15 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 12, 2017 at 9:38 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Peer pressure among teenagers is intense for ordinary kids - so imagine what it's like when your body weight is twice what it should be. For Austin Shifflett, life at William Monroe High School in Greene County, Virginia was a living hell.

"I had the nickname fat boy in gym class, which started off as a nickname - and then everyone started calling me it," said Austin. "It was just kinda like it was my name at that point."

Upon graduation, Austin started going to an all-night gym in Ruckersville, where he would work out at one, sometimes two in the morning - away from judgmental eyes. A high protein, low carb diet, along with hours on a treadmill and an elliptical bike, and the pounds started to melt away.

At his all-time heaviest, Austin tipped the scales at 324 pounds. He lost 166 pounds and now weighs 159.

But that monumental weight loss left mounds of disfiguring skin on his newly-slight frame. Austin didn't like what he saw in the mirror, and since "cosmetic surgery" isn't covered by health insurance - it was out of the question:

"I spent years online, looking up prices for surgeries, and it's so expensive," he said.

Enter local plastic surgeon, Dr. Neil Zemmel and his partner Steven Montante. They were contacted by producers for the TV show, The Doctors - who were hoping they'd help out Austin, and perform the needed work, pro bono. There was so much excess skin, one procedure wouldn't be enough - it would take two.

"Even though he's young," said Dr. Zemmel, "skin has its limits in terms of its limits to snap back. So he had a tremendous amount of loose skin  after he lost the weight and his weight stabilized."

One procedure focused on his upper body - the chest - the more difficult procedure was his mid-section. This was far more invasive than a tummy tuck, because about seven pounds of loose skin had to be removed from the circumference of his body.

According to Zemmel, it wasn't an easy procedure.

"He stretched out all the way around. So not only did we take tissue from his abdomen, we went all the way around his hips and even across the lower back and buttocks, and basically pulled everything up," said Zemmel.

It's been two months now since the last surgery, and Austin has healed nicely. He's now happy with his new look, which is actually providing him with income. Austin is modeling and has several national TV commercials in the works.

The cost of these surgeries would have been in the neighborhood of $45,000 - an unobtainable amount of money for Austin at this age, but Dr. Zemmel says, he was glad to do it.

"From a personal standpoint, this was extremely gratifying for myself, Megan our PA and my partner Dr. Montante. We were really able to change his life, and we feel pretty good about it."

And as far as Austin is concerned, Dr. Zemmel saved his life.

"I always told myself, eventually, I would get it, but realistically, I probably never would have gotten it," he said. "I could never repay them or thank them enough for what they did."

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