When Lee Jordan met up with his high school girlfriend, Beth Schwein, at a Starbucks in Herndon, Va., after more than 20 years apart, he was nervous.
He hadn’t just lost some hair and gained a little weight – he was bald and he weighed 450 lbs.
He could only imagine what her reaction would be when she saw how much he’d changed from the 165-lb. boy with a full head of hair she’d fallen in love with.
“People look at you with sadness. Horror. Pity,” Jordan, now 50, tells PEOPLE. “And this was the love of my life. I couldn’t stomach her looking at me that way.”
Instead, he got a pleasant surprise.
“Beth looked at me, and all she saw was Lee Jordan,” he told CNN. “That’s it. There was nothing but love and acceptance in her eyes.
Beth, now 51, confirmed it.
“I just saw Lee, the person I loved in high school,” she tells PEOPLE. “He was the same genuine, nice, caring man.”
For Jordan, it was a turning point in his life.
He had just been diagnosed with obesity-induced breathing problems, diabetes and high cholesterol. He used an oxygen tank to breathe.
“The doctors had told me, ‘You’re going to die in two years,’ ” he tells PEOPLE. “And I still left the hospital and couldn’t change.”
The two, who had broken up in college, became friendly pen pals after that meeting in 2008 and Jordan immediately took steps to lose weight.
First he had a gastric band inserted around his stomach; then he started a walking program and hired a personal trainer.
After Schwein divorced in 2012, their relationship became romantic. Jordan proposed in the same Starbucks where they’d met for coffee for years earlier. They are now married.
Jordan, at 5 ft., 8 in., now weighs 178 lbs. He is a certified personal trainer and works with Beth. They see clients though their company, Fullest Living, in Jacksonville, Fla.
There is a moral to this story, he says.
“Love and acceptance can move people past amazingly difficult barriers,” he says.