Tuesday, April 20, 2010

ED's, Insurance, and Why Senate Bill 744 Matters for Missourians

by Jessica Heitman, Contributing Writer

We have a big fight ahead of us and need more Missourians to advocate for eating disorders. People really have no clue when it comes to eating disorders. After all, an outsider’s perspective that I have heard countless times is, "Why should we have to pay for people who chose to starve themselves?" As an outsider, I guess that is what an eating disorder could look like: an attempt for women (the “target audience”) to lose weight by starving. However, eating disorders are not really about weight at all. They stem from deep psychological, cultural, and genetic problems.

I was in attendance during the Senate Hearing in Jefferson City last month for Senate Bill 744. At the senate hearing, I spoke about the importance of education in regards to eating disorders and how insurance coverage could help so many sufferers in the state of Missouri. When I was in the 5th grade, my teacher took me aside during recess and told me she was concerned I may have an eating disorder because I always complained of headaches and laid my head down during class. She advised me to talk to my parents about her concern. Did I talk to my parents? No. Did my teacher follow up with my parents or myself? No. So at the onset of my eating disorder, at the very beginning stage, I know now that it could have been treated early and I could have possibly made full recovery if this one teacher had been educated on how to go about handling a student that has or potentially has an eating disorder. I do not blame her - she was not educated enough to know what she should do.

By the time I was a sophomore in high school, my life was devoted to my eating disorder. I was an All-American cheerleader and made straight A's in school. I was a perfectionist to say the least. My cheerleading coach was the first to recognize there was a problem AND pursue it with all her ability. This was six years after my teacher in 5th grade saw reasons to be concerned. By this time, I had been suffering with anorexia for six years, eating nothing for a week or more at a time, scarfing down diet and energy pills, and exercising until I literally passed out from exhaustion. My body was giving up.

I refer to eating disorders as a silent killer because even my parents refused to believe there was a problem. My coach tried to get me help and begged my parents to get me the help I so desperately needed three times before my coach herself took matters into her own hands. She threatened my parents with getting family services involved. It was April of my sophomore year when she and my mother took me to McCallum Place, an eating disorder treatment center in St. Louis, to see a therapist. Within ten minutes, my vitals and weight were taken and I was sent immediately to Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital. I was inches away from death because of my anorexia, something that could have been halted six years early with proper education. My weight was low, I was severely dehydrated, my electrolytes were imbalanced, my heart rate was in the 20s... the symptoms of my eating disorder went on and on. I spent three weeks in the hospital on bed rest while hooked up to IVs and a heart monitor before I was transferred to McCallum Place for 24 residential hour care.

I spent only one month at McCallum Place before being denied treatment by my insurance company because I had stabilized and was no longer a medical problem, according to my insurance companies’ standards. Because of this, I have relapsed many times. I am now 22 years old and have been a sufferer of anorexia and bulimia for about 12 years.The recommended time for treatment varies for each individual, but the average length of time for treatment is 4-6 weeks, but most need about 3 months in treatment.

It is my hope that the people of Missouri see the need for early treatment and education for eating disorders so that others can fight a righteous battle. When eating disorders are 'caught' early on, there is a greater chance of recovery. However, there is a 20% death rate in those who suffer with anorexia. In my opinion, this percentage is much greater because of the secrecy that surrounds this disease. The statistics available are helpful, but not accurate.

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