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news: frieda’s battle with bulimia

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Title/Topic: Frieda’s Battle With Bulimia
Posted On: 11/15/2008
Nov 17 2008, Madison, Wisconsin (Wisconsin State Journal) – Frieda Curtis, a 19-year-old student at Edgewood College who planned to be a history teacher, died a year ago this month from a heart condition related to bulimia.

“This is a girl who thought she was fat and ugly,” said her father, Chuck Curtis Jr., holding poster-board collages of photos of his only daughter.

In the photos, Frieda acts in plays, giggles with friends and poses with boys. Her brown hair, blue eyes, mega-watt smile and toned physique are so striking it’s hard to imagine anyone finding her anything but attractive.

“This addiction isn’t like others,” said Curtis, 52, a lawyer who agreed to talk about Frieda’s death because he wants to raise awareness of bulimia.

“With this addiction, your worst enemy is what you need to survive,” he said. “If you binge and purge, you’re rolling the dice.”

Eating disorders chiefly bulimia and anorexia, in which people starve themselves because they think they are too fat affect about 7 million women and 1 million men in the United States, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.

The disorders, which often cause physical and mental harm, are occasionally fatal. About 6 percent of serious cases result in death, the association says. Frieda, who had a flair for writing and drama, became very conscious of her weight as an eighth grader at Hamilton Middle School, her father said. She started running and lifting weights.

“As a parent, you think, great, she’s being healthy,” Curtis said.

By her junior year at West High School, a few blocks from the family’s historic house on Madison’s Near West Side, Frieda agonized about her body almost daily in journals she kept to herself.

Next to cutout pictures of ultra-thin actresses such as Cameron Diaz, Calista Flockart, Halle Berry and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, she recorded her weight, calorie intake and efforts to get rid of the food she ate.

Frieda had told Samantha Carroll, a close friend and classmate at West, that she had struggled with bulimia and recovered.

But Carroll saw that Frieda was still losing weight rapidly and going to the bathroom frequently after she ate, at school and at restaurants. Frieda’s hair became thin.

“I thought that if I didn’t do something, she would die,” said Carroll, now 21 and a student at UW-Madison. “She never wanted to talk about it. She was very embarrased about it. But it was taking control of her whole life.”

Carroll talked to her mother, who called a school counselor. The counselor contacted Curtis, and Frieda started getting medical help.

During the summer of 2005, Frieda was admitted twice to St. Mary’s Hospital for low levels of electrolytes, especially potassium.

Doctors said her frequent vomiting may have caused an abnormal heart rhythm they found and certainly was making it worse.

In June of that year, Frieda who was 5 foot 4 was upset that she had gained weight. She expressed her desperation in her journal.

“I know I cannot throw up anymore because I know that’s why my chest hurts and I don’t want to die,” she wrote.

“I don’t like leaving the house because I am so ashamed of my weight,” she continued. “I am the ugliest person on the planet once again.”

She enrolled in a monthlong outpatient program for eating disorders at Waukesha Memorial Hospital. Just before starting her senior year at West, she spent a week at Meriter Hospital’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry program.

Once school began, Frieda continued to meet with Dr. Kathy Moriarty, her pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist at Dean Health System, and Scott Ritchie, a Madison psychologist who specializes in eating disorders.

“She was very aware of how serious it was,” said Moriarty, who met with Frieda every few weeks. “But she thought she could have control over it.”

Ritchie said Frieda was the first patient in his 25 years of practice who has died from an eating disorder during treatment.

“She was very, very self critical and had a very negative self-perception,” he said. “She developed a greater sense of self-acceptance, but there continued to be a very critical voice.”

At school, Frieda had good grades, high test scores, boyfriends and many friends. She volunteered as a French tutor, acted with Madison’s Young Shakespeare Players, sang in choirs and played soccer and volleyball.

A cat lover, she convinced her dad to get three cats even though he’s allergic to them.

After graduating from West, she went to Boston University. After one semester, she transferred to Edgewood.

Frieda soon moved into an apartment not far from campus but kept in close contact with Curtis and her mother, Frieda Allen.

Her parents separated when she was 3 and divorced when she was 6.

Allen did not want to be interviewed for this article but said she supported it.

Frieda also kept seeing Moriarty and Ritchie.

Her condition seemed to be improving, Curtis said. She talked of wanting six children and outlined her wedding plans in her journal: a bell-shaped strapless dress, her hair styled up with wispies, an afternoon ceremony in autumn, a “reception under a tent under the stars.”

On a Tuesday in late October last year, Frieda and her dad watched the Democratic presidential candidates debate, and she stayed overnight at his house.

She seemed happy, though stressed about mid-term exams, he said.

It was the last time he saw her alive.

That weekend, Curtis wondered why Frieda hadn’t called to check in. On Saturday, he left her a couple of phone messages.

On Sunday evening, Nov. 4, after he talked to Allen, she went to Frieda’s apartment and found her dead. Frieda had died at least 24 hours earlier, said the coroner, who ruled out suicide and said she died from the bulimia-related heart condition.


*This story has been edited by Pale Reflections to remove weights, numbers, and specific foods.

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