I am asked this nearly every week by one parent or another, and I answer reflexively “of course”. In order to do what we do at Kartini Clinic we have to believe our patients can get well, that our efforts and the herculean efforts of the parents can be rewarded. There are no guarantees in life, but there needs to be hope. Hope based on real evidence.
It is true that some patients with eating disorders never do get well. They experience a lifetime of disability and mental illness. In the case of anorexia nervosa, the historical data has shown that 10% go on to die of their illness. But how about the remaining 90%?
I got a message yesterday from a Mom saying “just to let you know, your former patient was just wait-listed for Columbia Law School and accepted to Northwestern.” And I happened to know that this was after the same girl had travelled the world alone, working on projects for the poor in underserved areas, raising money for those who could not help themselves. Not a hitch in her eating, not a glitch in her health.
I get lots of emails from patients in their twenties. Sometimes it takes them that long to get over being mad at me for making them gain weight; sometimes -- in the natural course of things -- it took that long for them to accomplish their personal goals. I have received many letters and emails from young adults with formerly severe disease who (in many ways more marvelous than academic success) have become radiant mothers, fathers and wives and husbands, whose battles went from barely hanging on as we struggled to protect them, to focusing their energies on protecting a new family from the slings and arrows everyone faces.
And these were not just the kids with the mildest disease, in case you were thinking that. I am talking, in some of their cases, about kids I thought were possibly in that 10%. Even an occasional patient whom we expected to read about in the obituaries, has written an email “Dear Dr. O’Toole, I am writing to let you know how well things have gone for me, and to thank….”
I am privileged to be the recipient of this information, to be able to see what is possible with treatment, after all. And I write this so that parents may also see.
Is there hope? You betcha.