NaKeysha King: Flawless

With her poise and her platform, she’s helping others embrace life with a feeding tube.

NaKeysha's modeling career was interrupted by a mysterious illness.

The model with a mysterious ailment

NaKeysha King always wanted to be a model. She finally made it happen at age 27, when she entered a beauty pageant, won, and signed with an agency. That was 14 years ago. She’s been doing print, billboards, and New York Fashion Week ever since. King is also an editorial director with Fashion Avenue News, which allows her to help other models launch their careers. Her Instagram page oozes beauty, authority, and glamour.

Modeling requires confidence. That’s never been a problem for King, but she’s been tested. Three years ago, she ate some fried fish, picked up a parasite and intestinal bacterial infection, and started to feel ill. Doctors struggled to pinpoint the problem. Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. Months turned into years.

King’s condition didn’t have a name—yet—but it certainly had an impact. Her body wasn’t breaking down food properly, so she was getting limited nutrients. Most days, she was listless. She spent countless hours in bed, being tended to by husband Brian. ("My rock," she says.)

Within the first year, she lost 19 pounds from her 5-foot-7 frame. At just 85 pounds, she looked like a walking billboard for the worst cliché about models—that they starve themselves. "I’m already petite," she says. "I didn’t need to lose any weight."

She didn’t want the industry to know that she was sick. She’d deflect questions, but the bigger problem was this: She couldn’t explain what she didn’t understand. She could stay out of the limelight but still serve her industry—the fashion editorial job was good for that—but it wasn’t what she fully wanted.

NaKeysha proudly rocks her feeding tube, filled with Kate Farms, on social media.

Finding what her body needs

Last December, NaKeysha finally got a diagnosis. She had a trio of conditions: gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach lining and small and large intestines; dysphagia, a difficulty with swallowing; and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), where the pancreas doesn’t make necessary digestive enzymes. And on top of this, she had liver disease, a condition that runs in her family. The recommended treatment: a percutaneous endoscopic gastronomy (PEG), a tube in the stomach that would allow her to take in nutrients and bypass her mouth and esophagus.

Initially, she was nervous about the procedure. There was a chance of infection. She had shifted to a plant-based diet and wasn’t sure if liquid options would be available. And, of course, what if it didn’t work? But she quickly realized that the PEG was her best hope—especially after her GI specialist recommended plant-based Kate Farms as her formula of choice. "I knew it would help," she says. "I knew it could save my life."

King had the procedure in January, and almost immediately she could feel her body receiving nutrients. She’s up to 98 pounds now, and her energy is coming back. "I’m more alert, more myself," King says. "There are days when I’m in bed, but not every single day. I have a lot more life. I’m starting to feel complete." She also has less anxiety. "Before I was scared to death to eat anything," she says. She’d feel nauseous and wouldn’t know when pain would hit. Now, the uncertainty is gone.

"I don’t have to worry about being sick or hungry," she says. "Kate Farms allows me to be who I was before I got sick."

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Same limelight, different shadow

And yet, King isn’t the same person—and after the surgery, she instinctively knew it was time to stop pretending that she is. On February 5, she posted her first condition-related photo on her Instagram. She’s sitting on the back of her couch, in a sweater and jeans, alongside a portable bag filled with Kate Farms. She did it to commemorate Feeding Tube Awareness Week.

She was nervous about revealing her condition but brushed aside her fears. "As a model, you’re supposed to promote a brand," she says. "This gave me my life back. I knew sharing it would help someone else."

She also wanted to blow up another cliché about models—that their lives are picture-perfect. We all fight our own battles, she says. We all have our own flaws. Besides, King believes perfection is in the eye of the beholder. Her feeding tube isn’t a flaw. It’s saving her life.

"It actually makes me flawless," she says.

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