Nfld. & Labrador

Tammy Ralph, anorexic woman, gets hospital 'ultimatum' before proper care

A man from Newfoundland's west coast says his wife was given the choice of palliative care or going away for treatment for anorexia nervosa, so he emailed the provincial health minister to help his family.

Newfoundland woman's husband emails health minister to finally get wife into proper treatment

Tammy Ralph has been battling anorexia nervosa since she was 16. She's shown with her youngest daughter, who visited her during a recent hospital stay in Corner Brook, N.L. (Submitted by Ken Ralph)

A man from Newfoundland's west coast says he had to email the provincial health minister to get his wife into care for anorexia nervosa, the self-starvation disorder she has been battling for more than 20 years.

Ken Ralph says he's worried other people aren't getting the care they need to battle life-threatening illnesses.

Tammy Ralph, 37, has been fighting anorexia since she was 16.

Ralph said his wife remained in Western Memorial Regional Hospital in Corner Brook for seven weeks, when she was given a choice about her care.

They had exhausted their resources, and Tammy was just getting weaker and weaker every day.- Ken Ralph

"They gave her an ultimatum and they said, 'You [Tammy] need to go away for treatment [and] we don't know when and where that treatment will be. Or the other option is we will cut back all services to a palliative level, and just make you comfortable and give you pain killers,' and we said no, that's not an option," said Ralph.

"We're not — Tammy's not dying from this disorder. We're not resorting to a palliative level."

Ralph said he wasn't going to accept those options, and decided to email Health Minister Steve Kent to see if anything could be done.

Kent responded to Ralph within the hour; a few days later, Tammy Ralph started in a program at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's.

No programs available

"[It was] an act of desperation that Tammy was really unwell and that there was nothing else that Western Health could do for her. They had exhausted their resources, and Tammy was just getting weaker and weaker every day," said Ralph.

Ken Ralph says his wife has been through multiple programs to help her fight anorexia nervosa, but he still has hope she will get better. (Submitted by Ken Ralph)
"We had just recently found out about an inpatient program that was being delivered by Eastern Health at the Health Sciences Centre and I said, 'OK, we're going for that. Let's get things moving.'"

Prior to that, Ralph said his wife was being sustained at the Corner Brook hospital by a feeding tube through her nose — but that wasn't making her better; it was just sustaining her and keeping her alive.

Ralph said there aren't programs available for people on the west coast who need help specifically for eating disorders.

"There is very little available at Western Health, even in regards to support groups and any kind of groups," he said.

"There's psychologists and those types of things, but there's no set program and I would just encourage anyone you have to go where the services are available."

Not losing hope

According to Ralph, anorexia nervosa is a disorder that he himself didn't fully understand when he got married, and it's important to educate people about what individuals with eating disorders go through, and how best to help them.

"I think in my own mind I kind of thought, 'Well, I guess I thought if she was in a stable relationship with someone that she loved and I loved her that things would all be OK.' But it's not about that. It's about a disease."

Ralph added that for the family's three children, they know something isn't right. Their mother is admitted to hospital three or four times a year for weeks at a time.

But he said it's his 16-year-old stepdaughter who knows more about what her mother goes through.

"It's always been a part of her life, ever since she's been born that her mom has been back and forth to the hospital and sick and at times not able to do things with her, even though she tries her best — Tammy tries her best to be involved with the family," said Ralph.

"I think she understands it pretty well. We have talked about it."

Even though his wife has been through a number of programs in the past, Ralph said he won't lose hope that she will be able to fight the disease that's afflicted her for most of her life.

Ralph added that while he doesn't know his wife's current weight — since the staff running the program she's in keep that from her while she's in treatment — she was 95 pounds when admitted to hospital in Corner Brook in December.

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