Patient Story: Rachel

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FOR 16-YEAR-OLD RACHEL, IT BEGAN WITH SKIPPING LUNCH AT SCHOOL TO AVOID A CAFETERIA BULLY. AT HOME, HER DAD’S CANCER TREATMENT HAD INTERRUPTED THE FAMILY DINNER ROUTINE, SO RACHEL TOOK TO SKIPPING THAT MEAL, TOO.

Home and school no longer felt predictable to the teen. As the daily structure of her life crumbled, Rachel saw food as something she could be in charge of—that eating less made her stronger and in control.

Rachel was convinced she was making healthy decisions around her nutrition, but she quickly spiraled into a dangerous eating disorder that threatened both her mental and physical health. Weak from malnutrition and increasingly despondent, Rachel told her mom that her life wasn’t worth living anymore. She desperately needed help.

Within hours of arriving at the emergency department of Hasbro Children’s Hospital, Rachel was admitted to our inpatient pediatric Medical-Psychiatric Program.

“We treat the whole person and the family,” says Program Co-Director Daniel Spencer, MD. “Our patients are not a list of diagnoses, but young people with strengths and struggles, and we want to help them live happy and healthy lives.”

The med-psych’s interdisciplinary team began their work by stabilizing and reversing the systemic damage of malnutrition, which had weakened Rachel’s heart and bones. Her nutritional care was integrated with psychotherapy—individual, group, milieu, and family-based—and medication for her depression. During her three-week stay on the unit, she learned to separate herself from her eating disorder, allowing her parents to make healthy nutrition decisions for her until she could once again do so herself.

After a month in Hasbro Children’s partial program, Rachel’s recovery culminated in successfully transitioning back home and to school. She’s managing stress with coping strategies learned in the Med-Psych Program and following a healthy eating plan with the support of her loving family.