Theresa Boykevisch: Battling the Bully in Her Brain

Anorexia landed this young gymnast in the hospital, where complications nearly took her life. That’s when she decided to try something radical.

Theresa Boykevisch: Battling the Bully in Her Brain

A team of nurses pleaded with Theresa Boykevisch to eat. For five days she’d consumed nothing but water. She needed calories to survive. So finally, reluctantly, she ate some peanut butter and jelly. That’s when things took a turn for the worse.

After going nearly a week without food, the sudden flood of energy hit Boykevisch’s system like a tsunami. Her potassium and phosphorus levels plummeted, and her resting heart rate jumped to 150 beats per minute—twice what it should have been.

As the hospital’s rapid response team swarmed in to ferry her from the psych unit to cardiac care, Boykevisch, a 21-year-old from Long Island, New York, was struck cold with the sudden realization that she might not survive.

“I have never been so scared,” she says. “But even while being controlled by a disorder that wanted me to die, what was left of me still wanted to live.”

The disease she was fighting then, and still fights today, is anorexia. “It’s the monster that I’m still not quite sure how to control,” she says.

In the cardiac unit, the hospital staff managed to stabilize her. Boykevisch spent the next few weeks—starting in late February 2018—under inpatient surveillance in the psych unit.

It’s a place that nobody would find particularly enjoyable, but for Boykevisch, it was particularly distressing. The things that make her happiest in life—snowboarding, figure skating, and most of all, gymnastics—were a world away.

Boykevisch began taking gymnastics classes when she was 6 years old, and when she reached 9th grade, she made the high-school varsity team. She was thriving outwardly, but quietly, she was suffering. Anxiety and depression were closing in on her, squeezing so tightly that she had to be hospitalized. The burden became too heavy, and ultimately she wound up taking a two-year hiatus from school.

To make her battle even more difficult, Boykevisch has at various times had to fend off the effects of severe acid reflux, sleep apnea, and conversion disorder, a mental condition that manifests itself through physical symptoms.

For Boykevisch, that means psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES). Obtaining treatment is generally a struggle, says Boykevish. Because she’s already been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, doctors often tell her that her symptoms aren’t real. They’re all in her head.

The anorexia came on a little more than a year ago, and it became increasingly severe until she landed in the hospital. As an inpatient, she fought to get better. She ate as much as she could handle and even guzzled powdered potassium. (“It’s seriously grossest thing I have had to drink in my life!” she says.)

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And the battle isn’t over. After being released from the hospital in April 2018, Boykevisch was re-admitted in October. Food was making her nauseated, and eating was painful. That’s when she decided to try something radical.

The doctor prescribed the drug Zofran for her nausea, but to make sure she continued getting calories while she battled the anorexia, Boykevisch had a nasogastric (NG) tube snaked through her nostrils. By bypassing her mouth, it would deliver calories directly to her stomach.

She’d tried liquid nutrition drinks and shakes in the past, but they all upset her stomach. So after having the NG tube placed, Boykevisch began looking for a new formula to run through it. That’s when she found Kate Farms.

“It’s pretty much the only thing that doesn’t irritate my stomach or make me feel bloated,” says Boykevisch. “So now I’m doing better on the eating-disorder front.”

For three months, Kate Farms provided more than half her daily calories. She felt better and even gained a pound and maintained it, so she recently decided to have her NG tube removed.

Unfortunately, she’s found that eating is still painful, so she may have it reinserted. And if her stomach doesn’t settle, she worries that a longer-term feeding tube may be necessary. She’s committed to figuring it out—and seeing it through.

“I’m just trying to fight it one day at a time,” she says. “Kate Farms and my NG tube have given me hope that my life won’t be ruled by this illness.”

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