A teenager who went on a drastic diet was admitted to hospital after nearly starving herself to death – on just one Ryvita a DAY.
Pretty Beth O’Brien, 14, was a healthy size eight or ten before she decided to go on a New Year health kick.
But she became obsessed with recording her calorie intake on a mobile phone app and within five months had developed crippling anorexia.
Eventually she was eating just half a 30 calorie Ryvita for breakfast and half for dinner.
She was admitted to hospital and was fed through a nasal tube, but was astonishingly discharged when medics couldn’t find her a much-needed inpatient bed.
Her desperate mum Fran, 37, said her consultant was forced to call each of the UK’s 25 specialist units everyday for six weeks to find her a space.
Beth was eventually given a bed in a treatment centre 100 miles from her Bristol home, and her mum is calling for more help for young sufferers.
Fran, a music teacher, from Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol, said: “As a parent you feel utterly helpless.
“You have a child who is incredibly ill and the medication – the food – is sat right in front of them but you can’t make the two come together.
“Beth absolutely refuses to eat.
“It’s not that she won’t eat – just that she can’t eat. There is a voice in her head beating her up for thinking about eating. It’s like living constantly with a bully in your head.
“At her worst she stopped eating almost totally. She was eating half a Ryvita in the morning and half later, and only drinking water.
“She would say ‘I don’t have a problem, I’m too fat, I want to have a BMI of such-and-such’.”
“We were just playing this awful waiting game [for a bed] and with every day that passed anorexia was getting its claws deeper into Beth.”
Beth was a healthy teenager who loved sport when she announced in January she wanted to eat more healthily.
Initially her family supported her new diet, but in a matter of weeks Beth started losing enormous amounts of weight.
Her mum, who has a daughter Victoria, 18, and son Hugo, eight months, noticed she was obsessively logging her calorie intake on an app on her mobile phone.
The once-bubbly teenager began to shut herself away in her room, exercising to YouTube videos and refusing to join her family for meals.
Eventually she was eating just an apple and a piece of toast – just 150 calories a day – before then reducing her intake to just a single Ryvita cracker.
“She went from being a healthy BMI to severely underweight BMI,” said Fran.
“She was almost on the verge of collapse constantly because she was so exhausted by everything.
“She was holding mugs of boiling water to try to stay warm because she had no body fat to keep her warm whatsoever.”
Eventually frail Beth saw her GP in April and was admitted to Bristol Children’s Hospital in May, where she was fed through a nasal tube.
Fran does not wish to disclose Beth’s weight because it is feared that anorexics use such figures as a ‘target’ to fuel their obsessions.
Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) began searching for an in-patient bed, but her family were told the service was “at breaking point” and Beth was added to a waiting list.
She was discharged home after 15 days – despite still being unable to eat – and Fran took over feeding Beth through a tube at home.
“If she didn’t have that tube, she genuinely might have died by now.”
A consultant at Bristol’s Southmead Hospital phoned every specialist unit around the UK everyday and a bed was found for Beth at a centre in Maidenhead, Kent, last week.
Fran is happy her daughter is finally getting the help she needs, but furious at the lack of facilities.
She said: “It’s frustrating, it’s upsetting.
“It’s also crazy because if you had a child with a broken leg and a doctor was having to phone around trying to find a bed there would be uproar.
“Anorexia kills – 20 per cent of people with it die yet CAMHS are having to ring the 25 units every day hoping to find a bed which won’t even be near us.
“This is a recognised mental illness and not about choice, dysfunction or attention seeking.
“If it were any physical illness Beth would not be sat here waiting and that needs to change. It is not acceptable.
“People within the system have said to me it’s in meltdown, is totally inadequate and they just can’t cope.”
A spokesperson for NHS England said: “The NHS wants every patient to be treated quickly and safely but there is a high demand for eating disorder in-patient services.
“The Government’s pledge of £150m to develop specialist community based eating disorder services over the next five years, will help to reduce the need for inpatient care and release capacity.”
A spokeswoman for North Bristol NHS Trust said: “We are sorry that Ms O’Brien was unhappy with the support Beth received from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) while she was a patient in Bristol Children’s Hospital.
“CAMHS is currently commissioned to provide a very limited mental health liaison service to all patients in the children’s hospital.
“Our CAMHS consultant has been working tirelessly to find a specialist acute bed for Beth, making calls in and out of hours to try and secure an appropriate place for her as soon as possible but unfortunately there are currently none available anywhere in the country. The team is also in daily contact with the family during this time.”