PHOENIX - Sometimes, you find the best advice in the most unlikely place and that's exactly what happened to a Phoenix dry cleaning business owner at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A customer told Ben Pavkov that if he didn't lose weight, he could risk becoming extremely sick from COVID-19. He listened and what happened next is truly remarkable -- and it's a story he hopes will help others as well.
A lot has changed for Ben Pavkov since the pandemic hit.
"Our numbers dropped 70% from the old normal," he said. "And we're slowly working our way back from that, too. We're about 35% less than the 2019 numbers."
Ben and his wife, Livia, bought the Martinizing Dry Cleaners on Glendale Avenue near 16th Street in April 2018.
"It was a business that was going in the wrong direction and we bought it, turned it around, and put our life savings into this and we're starting to get our nose above water, and then COVID."
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It just so happens that the business, then COVID-19, turned Ben's life around, too.
Looking at photos from May 2019, he was 75 pounds heavier.
"I had a customer come in, standing in right front of me. He just looks to me and says, 'Ben, you have to lose weight.' This is a surgeon, so we started talking about health."
"I was so glad somebody else told him," said Livia.
Livia knew her husband needed to get healthy. She says that was obvious a year prior during an attempted hike up a local trail. Ben weighed in around 280 pounds.
"I saw him. He was laying down. I said what's going on and he said 'I'm not feeling well,' and then sure enough, I went quick up there, and he was like, fainting," she said.
"Mid to early May and I changed my diet. I changed what I was eating and I started feeling full, so I changed how much I was eating," said Ben.
"We are all eating more healthy in the house, so the change was not just for him, it was for everybody in the house," said Livia.
"And then I started seeing results in the waistline and that motivated me to actually put down the fork, and put on some tennis shoes and I lost 60 pounds by Christmas," said Ben.
Ben began to follow the Keto diet and take daily walks. He also recently started riding a bike for more cardio.
The advice Ben received may have been informal. After all, it happened at his dry cleaning business, and not a doctor's office, but experts we spoke to say it was exactly what he needed to hear.
Dr. Keith Chambers is a naturopath, who has successfully treated over 600 positive symptomatic COVID-19 patients in his two clinics.
"Anytime you have an obesity, there's a number of things coming to play that nutrients you have in your body, it's keeping all that weight you're carrying around running, so what takes the backseat? Your immune system," he said.
Dr. Chambers did not advise or treat Ben, but agrees that losing weight may have very well saved his life. In the very least, it reduced his chances of getting sick and increased his chances of a full recovery if he did.
"They're less likely to survive Covid, mostly because if they're obese, their sugar levels are probably out of range or getting there," said Chambers. "On the positive side of this thing, people are doing a little introspection and saying hey, maybe I should consider a little bit of a different lifestyle."
"One of my goals was I wanted to do six miles a day in about an hour. The next goal I wanted to do is get up to 60 consecutive push-ups and 100 sit ups. By Christmas, I achieved those goals. All of them," said Ben. "It was a long, hard process."
A process and a work in progress, Ben says he still wants to lose 10 more pounds.
"Something I've wanted to do. I just found a reason to do it. If this is going to keep me safe and ultimately my family safe from the Covid scare that's going on, we're trying to get through all of this," said Ben.
Ben says if there's one thing COVID-19 and his customer made him realize, is that his health has to be a priority.
The surgeon who first administered the advice didn't want to go on camera, but Ben says he's glad he spoke up to give him some life-changing advice.
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