Those of us who are in the profession of treating eating disorders know how deadly they can be, especially anorexia. Yet when a young person dies of starvation, the truth is sometimes bent to hide the cause of death, whether out of shame or a desire for privacy.
I recall an incident several years ago when a number of my patients were devastated by the death of a mutual friend from anorexia. Her severe eating disorder had not been a secret; the friends had worried about her condition for years. Yet neither the press coverage her passing attracted nor her death notice mentioned that an eating disorder had contributed. All that was said was that the girl died in her sleep in her college dorm.
To remind everyone that eating disorders are the most deadly of the mental illnesses, let’s remember the seven South American girls whose lives were taken by anorexia, all within a span of less than a year.
1) DIED August 2, 2006, Luisel Ramos, age 22. From heart failure caused by anorexia nervosa while participating in a show during Fashion Week in Montevideo, Uruguay. Ramos felt ill after walking the runway and fainted on her way back to the dressing room. Ramos’s father told police that she had gone “several days” without eating. She was reported to have adopted a diet of lettuce leaves and Diet Coke for the three months before her death. At the time of her death the 5’-9” model had a body mass index (BMI) of about 14.5 and weighed little more 98 pounds. The World Health Organization considers a BMI of around 16 to be starvation level.
2) DIED November14, 2006, Ana Carolina Reston, age 21. From an infection stemming from kidney malfunction caused by anorexia and bulimia. At the time of her death, the part-Lebanese Brazilian fashion had been on a diet consisting only of apples and tomatoes. The 5’-8” model’s BMI was 13.4 and she weighed 88 pounds. Reston had begun her modeling career at age 13 after winning a local beauty contest. Three years before her death, she had been told at a casting call in Guangzhou, China, that she was “too fat,” an incident that led to her decline into anorexia.
3) DIED November 16, 2006, Carla Sobrado Casalle, age 21, of symptoms linked to anorexia. The 5’-9” college student living in the southeastern city of Araraquara, Brazil weighed 99 pounds.
4) DIED, December 24, 2006, Beatriz Cristina Ferraz Lopes Bastos, age 23, of anorexia. The 5’-2”, 77-pound teacher was a skilled pianist and amateur historian who wrote a web-based literary column. She was in treatment for her condition at a hospital in Jau, 200 miles northeast of Sao Paulo, Brazil. One newspaper quoted friends of hers recounting how they had to “fight with her to eat.” A former boyfriend told reporters Bastos was a chubby teenager and became fixated on losing weight.
5) DIED, December 31, 2006, Thayrinne Machado Brotto, age 16, of complications resulting from bulimia, at a hospital in Itaborai, Brazil. The 5’-3” high school student weighed only 46 pounds. Her family had learned of her eating disorder six months before her death when she had started missing classes. She was seeing a psychotherapist at the time of her death.
6) DIED, February 10, 2007, Eliana Ramos, age 18, of a heart attack believed to be related to malnutrition. She was the sister of Luisel Ramos, who had died six months earlier (see #1). Found dead at her grandparents’ home in Montevideo, Uruguay, Eliana was also a model. She had suffered emotionally after the death of her sister, according to friends. They rejected speculations that an eating disorder could have played a role, despite the medical evidence.
7) DIED, July 28, 2007, Maiara Galvao Vieira, age 14, in Rio, Brazil, during her fourth hospitalization. Although the 5’-7” aspiring model weighed 84 pounds and, according to her parents, was so weak she was unable to climb the stairs to her school, the media reported that no one had been able to diagnose the disease she was suffering from.
It’s sad to see that lack of education, adequate care, and in some cases, denial, played a role in these young women’s deaths. A cautionary tale, but a necessary one.
Marcia and Nancy