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Comox Valley woman literally wasting away
Amber Foster is dying.
The 30-year-old Comox resident has struggled with anorexia nervosa since she was a teen.
In and out of hospital too many times to count, she has suffered four heart attacks, three transient ischemic attacks (mini-strokes) and numerous seizures. Every day, she has hypoglycemic episodes where her blood sugar drops to dangerously low levels.
"One of the ambulance drivers actually pinned to my wall a salient bag with tubing," said Foster, who also suffers arrhythmia, re-feeding syndrome, and internal bleeding, among other complications.
The five-foot-three Foster used to weigh about 110 pounds. She is now down to 76 pounds.
At one time she was a bartender and owned a restaurant in Coombs. These days, however, she is too weak to work or care for her 12-year-old son. Her mother, Laura Mitchell, has moved in to care for her.
"My poor mom, I feel so bad for her, she's sitting here watching her daughter die," Foster said. "My sister's pregnant, too, and we can't even really enjoy that."
Time is not on her side. Foster has been told she will die sooner than later if she does not receive proper medical attention. At any time she could slip into a hypoglycemic coma. Problem is, she said, no medical professional will touch her because of her complications.
Outpatient treatment is available at St. Joseph's General Hospital, but Foster's file was closed because she missed appointments with a therapist and dietician.
"Unfortunately our hospital here, they don't have an eating disorder program, nor do they have a psychiatrist here for eating disorders," she said, noting the affliction represents the highest mortality rate (20 per cent) among psychological disorders.
Foster needs medical stabilization followed by a psychological program. She had hoped to tap into provincial funding to access out-of-province services, but said funds have not been available.
Several weeks ago, she started a Facebook group — Advocacy For Adults With Eating Disorders — that consists of more than 90 people. She has spoken with elected officials, mostly Port Coquitlam MLA MIke Farnworth, who has forwarded the group's concerns to the Legislative Assembly, and sent a letter on her behalf to Health Minister Mike de Jong.
"We have 12 cases that have been called chronic and said that we all have a lifelong disease," Foster said, referring to patients over the age of 24. "Why should I die? Why don't I have the right to live when there are means of helping me?"
The province offers 47 in-patient beds for eating disorder patients, seven of which are at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, which operates a specialized adult eating disorders program.
"Every health authority has community services that support eating disorders for patients at varying levels of the disease," said St. Paul's spokesperson Shaf Hussain, who denies Foster's claim that St. Paul's is discharging women with eating disorders who have reached 24 years.
St. Paul's operates the provincial tertiary program, which offers stabilization for eating disorder patients. There are also psychological supports available throughout B.C., also co-ordinated through the health authorities or St. Paul's, says Health Ministry spokesman Ryan Jabs. He notes St. Paul's will at times refer people out of province.
Jabs said the ministry is aware of Foster and will follow up with her case.
"This is such a complex disease," said Hussain, noting the importance of providing the right care at the right stage. "Clinicians will tell you if you give them the wrong care when they are not ready it can actually be detrimental to their health."
The St. Paul's eating disorders program, he added, contains passionate staff, experts, researchers and clinicians who care deeply about "this really vulnerable population.
"Clearly we sympathize for any patient who suffers from this."