“She was eight when she over heard her dance teacher saying that one of the other girls would never make it as a dancer because she was too overweight.”
These are the words of Beverley Duffy, whose daughter Emma is so gripped by anorexia that she hasn’t eaten in a year.
That one throwaway comment marked the start of a terrible journey for the 24-year-old, who relies on liquid nutrition to survive.
The former Parkside pupil has taken nine overdoses and been repeatedly sectioned. She has cut her legs and poured boiling water on her arms. She has even swallowed razor blades.
But her desperate family, of Hillside Drive, Walton have refused to give up hope of finding treatment.
“We have to be positive” said Beverley. “We have hope, and believe that she will get better. But even now we don’t know the full story. It’s like a million piece jigsaw, and we have only filled the first line in. It’s a mental illness. It’s not just about eating. She also has borderline personality disorder.”
She added: “She is a different Emma sometimes. It’s in her eyes. She is violent, she will attack us. She once accused me of trying to murder her and rang the police.”
Emma’s family didn’t know anything of her eating disorder until she was 18. Despite suffering from bullimia for ten years, her weight wasn’t low enough to cause concern.
Sister, Amy, 20, added: “That’s what is is like when you throw up. We just thought she was the slimmer one in the family. She didn’t really look ill. But she had been passing out and not feeling well and her hair was falling out.
“That’s when she wrote a letter to my mum saying she had been making herself sick, and that was why all those things had been happening.”
During her gap year, Emma went on a trip to Ghana to work with children in an orphanage and while out there changed the eating programme for the children, swapping their diet of gruel for eggs and vegetables.
But halfway through her trip, she became so weak that she had to be carried for miles to a hospital where they thought she had AIDS because of her low weight.
“They had never seen anyone so skinny,” added Beverley. “She had been giving her food to the children. She kept all this from us though. She said she was having a good time. Had I known I would have been straight out there.
“When she came home, we were waiting for her at the airport in London. But she was so skinny I walked straight past her. I didn’t recognise her. It is heartbreaking when you don’t even recognise your own daughter. I thought my world had ended. She was skin and bone. Her face had caved in and her eyes were sunken.”
A year later, Emma was forced to drop out of a nursing course at Teeside University because of poor attendance, but she stayed living in the area.
In October 2013, a suicide attempt led to her being sectioned at Roseberry Park hospital in Middlesborough, where she has been ever since.
“They don’t know what to do with her,” said Amy. “The average stay on that ward is 21 days. It is a holding place really. She has been there for six months. She needs to go somewhere where they can treat her eating disorder and her personality disorder.”
Their last hopes were dashed last month when they found out Emma had not been accepted for funding to attend The Retreat in York – one of the only units in the UK to treat eating disorders and personality disorders together.
Amy added: “Emma said ‘what is the point when noone is going to help me?’ and it’s difficult to disagree. It’s like they are trying to keep her alive, but not saving her.”
A spokesman for Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust said: “We are sorry the family has concerns about their daughter’s care and would encourage them to get in touch with us through our patient advice and liaison service to discuss these. It wouldn’t be appropriate for us to comment on the personal details of an individual’s care. The responsibility for funding care placements rests with the commissioners of NHS services.”
Amy and Beverley have now set up a group – Saving Emma – to try and raise the money needed to send Emma to The Retreat. They estimate the cost for three years to be close to £1m. “We want everybody to know what is going on” said Beverley. “This won’t be the first time it has happened and it wont be the last. Everyone keeps passing her on.”
lTo find out how to help the Saving Emma campaign, go to www.facebook.com/savingemmaduffy or visit www.gofundme.com/6osnlw
lEmma and family have given their support to this publicity. If you want support with understanding eating disorders call 01332 367571.