Rome COVID-19 survivor's weight loss journey

At 63, Clay Bentley feels like his life is finally back on track.

"I'm just thankful," Bentley says.  "I'm thankful to have life. I'm thankful to have my health."

Just 3 years, ago, in March 2020, the veteran law enforcement officers was in a Rome, Georgia, hospital fighting for his life.

Wearing a hospital gown, an oxygen canula in his nose, he reordered updates for his family and friends.

"It's about 3:30 in the morning," he told followers on his Facebook page.  "I've been through a pretty intense ordeal."

In the early days of the pandemic, Bentley became one of the faces of COVID-19, struggling to breathe because his lungs were filled with fluid, asking his followers to pray for him.

An evangelical Christian, Bentley believes he was one of dozens of churchgoers who contracted the coronavirus on March 1, 2020, at a mass choir celebration in nearby Cartersville.

At the time, little was known about the emerging virus or how it spreads.

A vaccine was still months away, and the medical teams were scrambling to find treatments that might help patients like Bentley.

"We were all living a normal life," Bentley says.  "I was standing in church with my friends, and coronavirus came in our church, took out 10 of my friends, left me in a hospital."

There for 11 days, he narrowly escaped being put on a ventilator.

Bentley credits God for his survival.

"It's a miracle in itself, that I came home, when I had friends that couldn't come home," he says, his voice choking.

But back home with his wife, Bentley struggled with lingering health complications, or long COVID.

He had difficulty catching his breath, heart problems, inflammation so severe, he says, his joints would lock up, and he could not walk.

"I was asking God, 'Why?'" he says.  "'Why am I still dealing with all these issues? Why have I got to block an artery in the heart? Why am I totally disabled now? Why am I struggling like I'm struggling?'"

That is when, Bentley says, the answer came to him.

"The Lord began to tell me that your body is important, and it's important that you begin to take care of your body," he says.

Now, he realized, it was his turn to make a change.

He no longer wanted to be the guy in those hospital videos.

"I see how overweight I was, and I see how unhealthy I was," Bentley says. "So, I got on plant-based nutrition program 8 months ago, so disabled, I couldn't even get off my couch and walk to the mailbox," he says.

He focused on eating vegetables and fruit, and healthy protein like chicken and fish.

It was a huge chance, he says, from the fast food diet he had eaten for decades.

Still, he says, it was not difficult.

"I wasn't dieting," Bentley says.  "I mean, I didn't feel like I was doing without things. I was just eating the correct things."

In the first 8 months, Bentley says, he lost 125 pounds.

"People that I'm that I see, that I haven't seen in a while, they can't believe that I look like I look today," he says.  "They can't believe that I'm moving like I move today."

Clay Bentley says he no longer needs the medication he was taking for long COVID, and feels better than he has in 20 years.

"I feel like God has given me a second chance in life, and I'm enjoying it," he says. "I'm enjoying my life. I'm just thankful. I'm thankful today to be alive."