Friday, August 21, 2009

Eating woes patients bare their souls, help others

Friday, August 21, 2009

Becky Allen, Kristina Saffran and Liana Rosenman have lived through hell.

Each of the New York-area teens almost died from serious eating disorders and underwent extensive treatment to recover.

Now on the other side, they want to help others suffering from similar illnesses. The trio formed Project HEAL: Help to Eat, Accept and Live. The not-for-profit organization seeks to raise money for patients who can't afford treatment and to help "diminish society's obsession with body image by encouraging [people] to accept their bodies."

In less than a year, the group has awarded two treatment scholarships.

The girls recently shared their stories with about 40 patients and families of the Penn State Hershey Medical Center's Eating Disorders Program. They spoke at the invitation of their former doctor, Dr. Rollyn Ornstein, who joined the local recovery program last year.

On the group's Web site, Becky Allen remembers just wanting to "disappear."

"I never thought someone with an eating disorder could turn into a strong leader; I was not even sure someone with an eating disorder could recover," she wrote. "Now, I want to maintain this lifestyle so that I can be living proof to others and show that recovery and the regaining of a life is possible."

Kristina Saffran tells about being admitted to the hospital "at under 65 percent ideal body weight. There was fluid around my heart. Within a few days, I was told that I might have to be transferred to the ICU to drain it. This was a huge wake-up call for me. I could have died. I decided that I was going to give this a fighting shot."

Dr. Richard Levine, director of the Penn State program, said he hoped hearing the teens' real-life stories would help "inspire and empower patients and their families."

"When young people are in the midst of the illness, it's hard to see beyond to the horizon of recovery," Levine said.

"They're such vibrant young women with such wonderful goals and aspirations. Our patients can see how rich life can be in recovery in contrast to a world dominated by food: eating, restricting, vomiting, or overexercising. They can see there's a whole other world out there -- with places to go and people to meet -- besides just worrying about what's on their plate for lunch."

The Penn State Eating Disorders Program sees about 30 to 35 new patients each month, Levine said. The program had about 12,000 patient visits during fiscal year 2008.

Patients from throughout central Pennsylvania are treated for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and related illnesses, Levine said. They range in age from 8 to 40-plus and include boys, girls, men and women, he said.

"Everything is a team approach," Levine said. "We have medical specialists, psychiatrists, psychologists, dietitians, social workers, nurses and nurse practitioners. It involves the whole team."

For more information call the Penn State Eating Disorders Program at 531-7235 or visit Project HEAL.

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