Walk feeds Sarah’s need to help eating disorder clinic
Student Sarah Stevens is walking about 20 kilometres from Red Beach to Army Bay to raise money for a clinic in Sydney which she says changed her life.
Sarah, 17, who attends KingsWay School in Orewa, spent three and a half months at the Peter Beumont Centre for Eating Disorders at Wesley Private Hospital in Sydney.
She was diagnosed with an eating disorder late last year, and was hospitalised twice, the second time for seven weeks to stabilise her weight after hitting 34kg.
“That was a total low point,” Sarah says.
“There were all sorts of people in there with me, and I didn’t really receive any help. I was just monitored because my weight was so low.”
She discovered she had neutropoenia, where her white blood cells were so low that her immune system was down, and also severe dehydration.
“They had to get my weight stable at around 40kg so I could get to Sydney, to make sure I was the minimum weight to get in. There was too much of a risk that if I went home I might get worse, so they kept me in there until I went.”
The Peter Beumont Centre for Eating Disorders was the only option for Sarah.
It is difficult to get inpatient treatment for eating disorders in New Zealand.
A private hospital in Dunedin only accepts adults, and focuses on mental illnesses such as depression and bipolar disorder.
Seven publicly funded beds at Princess Margaret Hospital in Christchurch are unavailable to North Islanders.
Sarah was put on a waiting list as a top priority case for the Sydney clinic, and was accepted in March.
The Waitemata District Health Board funded her treatment, airfares, transport and accommodation for her mum for the 14 weeks, and a visit from her dad, twin brother Paul and sister Anna, 15.
“That was amazing,” Sarah says.
“We wouldn’t have been able to afford it otherwise.”
Sarah, who arrived from England two and a half years ago, was an inpatient and had intensive treatment which didn’t allow her to go outside for a month, except to sit on a balcony a few times.
“We did intense therapy and a lot of group work, including cognitive behaviour therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, skills for day-to-day life and art therapy, which was really fun. We could do painting or photography or collage, anything that was a way to express ourselves.”
She also went to a nutritional group to learn about food myths, and a stress tolerance group to manage anxiety and stress.
“Once we were stable we were allowed to do a low level aerobics class. It worked on a reward basis. When the weekend came, if we had gained a certain amount of weight we were allowed to spend time with friends or family, but not for the first few weeks.”
Sarah was allowed visitors between 4pm and 8pm daily, and after four weeks moved to the day programme.
“The day programme has much more freedom,” she says. “You got to go home at night and had the weekends to yourself.”
They went out for lunch and had morning tea alone so they got used to eating by themselves.
The last stage was a threeday programme, which involved more freedom.
“Because I had a bit of depression I was scared about the future, so that was hard,” says Sarah who was the only New Zealander attending at the time.
Patients ranged in age from 14 to 64.
Sarah was weighed four times a week, and she says it was surprisingly hard to gain weight.
“I had to eat huge amounts, like twice as much as what my dad eats at home, because my body was not used to food and my metabolism had slowed right down. When I did eat it stored it all up really fast and burnt all the fat, so I had to eat a lot.”
She says it was a tough time for her family.
“It was hugely stressful on my family, on my parents and Paul and Anna. My siblings came over twice and my dad swapped with my mum for a week so I got to see everyone, which was really good.”
Her parents have joined the Eating Disorder Association of New Zealand, and the group is working with the district health board towards getting a similar clinic in Auckland.
Sarah says she has come a long way this year.
“Some people say you can completely get over it and some say you just learn to master it. I think you can get over it to a certain degree, but there’s always the risk that it’s going to be there.”
She is hoping people will sponsor her walk to raise money for the programme.
“I want to do as much as possible for them. People can come in to get help daily here but there is nothing like this in New Zealand.
“I know how much this place did for me, and I want it to be the best equipped it possibly could be to do the same for other people. The money will go towards anything that they need to do this the best they can.”
Sarah is doing the fundraising walk on Sunday, November 20, at noon.
To sponsor her phone (09) 426-4844 or email beautiful email@example.com.
Fundraising walk: Sarah Stevens, centre, is raising money for the Peter Beumont Centre for Eating Disorders in Sydney by walking from Red Beach to Army Bay on November 20. Her twin brother Paul, left, and sister Anna, 15, will walk with her.