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Local News

An Extraordinary Life: Man raised in Joliet area was 'friendly and smiling, no matter what'

Man with food addiction demonstrated compassion and tenacity

Justin Heard
Justin Heard

To his parents, Justin Heard was a kindhearted man who loved the Cubs and struggled with his weight.

To the online community, Justin used his food addiction to show empathy and support, and freely shared his personal experiences.

“Whenever someone had the same problem, he was very open so people didn’t have to go through it alone,” said Justin’s friend, Craig Meszaros of Joliet.

Justin, who grew up in Joliet, Channahon and Minooka, was 28 when he died Feb. 22 in Rantoul, where he was living. He weighed 630 pounds at the time. But he had valiantly tried for years to shed those excess pounds.

At one point, said Michelle Heard of Mahomet, Justin’s stepmother, Justin lost 200 pounds through CrossFit and water aerobics at the Plano branch of the Fox Valley YMCA, where Justin later worked.

He explored bariatric surgery, Michelle said, but doctors decided Justin’s size was too risky. Justin also made it to the final round of “The Biggest Loser” and moved to Houston, Texas, in an attempt to join the show “My 600-lb Life,” Michelle added.

“At different times, I think he came to the point of, ‘This is never going to happen for me. I’ll never be able to lose this weight. I’ll never get beyond where I am now,’” Michelle said. “Then he’d talk to his friends and they’d encourage him.”

Tony Heard of Mahomet, Justin’s father, said Justin started battling his weight when he was just 8 years old. For years, Tony and Justin’s mother, Kathy Heard of Minooka – who died when Justin was 13 – took Justin to many doctors as they unsuccessfully tried to address it.

“It was very frustrating,” Tony said.

Michelle said people often judged Justin’s character by his size, which often limited his ability to find work.

“People thought Justin must be lazy because he was overweight, that he wouldn’t be a hard worker or good to have in the public eye,” Michelle said. “But when Justin was at Best Buy, he was one of their top sellers and got high customer ratings on surveys. If you stopped to talk to Justin, you found out he was very intelligent. He worked the computer section. There wasn’t anything about computers he did not know.”

The job suited Justin because he simply liked people – being around them, talking to them and helping them, Michelle said.

“Once people got past the outside, they saw what a genuine, honest, caring person he was,” Michelle said. “Justin was one of those guys that if you were having a bad day, he would notice it and come up and hug you or say, ‘Hey, it’s going to be all right. It will be better tomorrow.’ He was just a compassionate person. He’d go out of his way to be sure that people around him knew that he cared about them and that he valued them and their friendship.”

Working at the Plano branch of the Fox Valley YMCA also suited Justin. Jon Meier, aquatic director, said Justin was already leading the water aerobics classes when Meier started working at the YMCA in 2012.

Justin didn’t have prior teaching experience, but the relationships he’d developed with the other students made him a natural for the position when it opened, Meier said. Justin also worked at the front desk and in the welcome center, Meier added.

“He was always friendly and smiling, no matter what,” Meier said. “He’d talk to anybody.”

A Go Fund Me account at was established to help pay Justin’s funeral expenses. Funds raised above that amount will be donated to PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center on Justin’s behalf, as part of the legacy Justin leaves behind.

“He taught us not to take each other for granted,” Michelle said.

• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or

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