Christina Skelton was mystified when her 13-year-old son Tyler suddenly began losing weight and feeling ill. A visit to the pediatrician was inconclusive; with the doctor suspecting Tyler had an eating disorder. Christina did not believe this was the problem, but knew that food was causing Tyler to feel nauseous and was contributing to his refusal to eat.
Christina did what most parents do these days and began researching various illnesses online. She came across Rogers Behavioral Health in Tampa, which involves both parent and child in their intensive treatment therapy. Christina made the two-hour drive from Clermont, FL with Tyler to visit the center. On the third day, the therapists told her that Tyler was critically ill and required hospitalization.
Tyler spent four weeks in Tampa General Hospital on a feeding tube, trying to regain his strength. Christina was so exhausted from trying to will her son to get better that she didn’t have the energy at first to even walk a block to the nearby Ronald McDonald House (RMH). Finally she realized that in order to best help her son she had to regain her own strength. She checked into the House and found the respite she needed to get through another day. Finally, Tyler was ready to be discharged from the hospital and enter treatment at Rogers. Because the treatment is only during the day, Christina wondered how they would manage, since the two-hour return trip was unmanageable on a daily basis. Betsy Wilkinson, the Tampa House Manager, works with the therapists at Rogers and she offered the family a place to stay during each week’s treatment. This was a turning point for Christina, who explains that they would not have been able to do this critical treatment without a local place to stay.
Tyler and Christina began therapy together to try and understand Tyler’s fears about food, including eating in large groups and finishing his meal. Those issues were first on the list of fears he would have to face before leaving the program. His twin sister, Jenna, and dad, Billy, visited the House when they could to see how the family was being cared for.
As Christina explains, Rogers teaches parents how to deal with their children’s fears, giving them the tools they need to move forward. Anxious about the program and how it would affect Tyler, Christina found solace at RMH. She bonded with the staff and volunteers during her seven-week stay, enjoying some time away from the stress of treatment and therapy to enjoy the delicious home cooking provided by generous meal groups. She also got to know other families which helped her put things into perspective. She comments, “I can’t imagine doing this treatment without RMH. Everyone is so thankful for a quiet, clean place with good food.” She is so impressed that former families come to the House to help out, and knows that her family will do the same when they are able. She notes, “Until you’re in a situation that puts you at RMH, you don’t understand what your needs are – simple things like a cup of coffee, make all the difference.” Christina was overwhelmed by the little touches that made her day – a beautiful Easter dinner and Easter baskets for both Tyler and his twin sister. These thoughtful measures are just one of the ways that the volunteers and staff make families feel welcome.
Christina describes Tyler’s illness as “a perfect storm”. Hormones, a stomach bug, and who knows what else all came together at once.” Thankfully, help was quickly found and Tyler is on the road to getting better. He may still need more therapy, but the family now knows how to recognize the symptoms and overcome challenging situations. In the meantime, Christina is thankful to have found her home-away-from-home in Tampa and ready to put this anxiety-filled six months behind her.
ABOUT ROGERS BEHAVIOR HEALTH
Rogers Memorial Hospital, part of Rogers Behavioral Health, is a leader in comprehensive and effective behavioral health care treatment for children, teens and adults.