Bristol teenager died weighing less than 6 stones after losing battle with anorexia
A TEENAGE girl died weighing less than six stone after losing her battle with anorexia.
Laura Willmott, 18, had struggled with the disease since 2007 and by the time she died in the intensive care unit at Frenchay Hospital she weighed just 5 stones 11 lbs (37kg), an inquest heard.
Her mother, Vickie Townsend, hopes that her daughter's story can now be used to help other young anorexia sufferers.
Laura, from Redland, died on December 19, 2011 having been admitted as an emergency patient on November 23. It followed a previous spell of 11 days in hospital.
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The teenager was discharged after her first admission when her physical health was deemed to be stable, with a meal plan to follow at home. But within six weeks she died, having become so weak that she could not walk.
She suffered a cardiac arrest that caused a brain injury which led to her ultimate death, the inquest heard.
Mrs Townsend, a qualified nurse, first took her daughter to the doctor with concerns about her weight in January 2007 and after Laura's diagnosis of anorexia Bristol Children's Hospital, the child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS) and Riverside adolescent unit became involved in her care.
After two years Laura was responding to care and her weight stabilised, although she still had significant issues with eating and her body image.
While under the care of the CAMHS team then based in Southwell Street she would attend weekly therapy sessions and was on daily medication, the inquest heard.
But having reached a "high point" in her recovery in the first half of 2010, when she was transferred to the north Bristol CAMHS team in June that year, Laura was given more control of her care and became less engaged with treatment – something her mother said she was not aware of at the time. She told doctors she no longer needed the support and was discharged from CAMHS early in 2011.
Mrs Townsend said: "I don't think it is right to stop parental involvement when a child has not even reached 18. I struggle to see how Laura was any different at 17 years and 364 days to 18 years and one day.
"What I do know is that once she was discharged it seemed to me that she was doomed from that point."
It was not until September 2011 that Laura was referred to the adult eating disorders team at the Southmead-based Steps unit.
By this time Mrs Townsend said her daughter weighed 7stones 1lb (45kg), although admitted this was probably a false weight because Laura knew "every trick in the book to give an inaccurate weight", including putting weights in her underwear.
Initially the Steps unit could not accommodate Laura but she was given blood tests and weighed weekly to monitor her physical health.
By October, Mrs Townsend was advised to take her daughter to accident and emergency at Frenchay Hospital by the Steps team and her GP and she stayed there for 11days.
When the medical team were ready to discharge her the options were for Laura to be admitted to an eating disorders unit outside of Bristol, to be sectioned under the mental health act, which would probably have seen her treated in London or to follow an eating plan at home.
Mrs Townsend told the inquest that her daughter could be "deceitful" in conversations with family and health professionals about her anorexia and just days before she died drenched tissues were discovered where she had used them to soak up nutritional drinks she was supposed to have consumed.
Melanie Lockett, consultant gastroenterologist at Frenchay told the inquest that in the past anorexic patients had been kept in longer after their physical symptoms were stable as a "buffer" to help them before being discharged, but an application to the primary care trust to fund the additional time in hospital had been turned down.
Hugh Herzig from the Steps unit, who was also involved in Laura's care, told the inquest: "I didn't know how the plan to send her home would go. I did treat it as an experiment, but one that was important to take at that time."
Assistant deputy coroner Terence Moore said he would write to the primary care trust about additional funding for anorexic patients to stay in hospital longer and requested mental health providers to keep hospitals informed of relevant information about patients to inform their care.