Bradley Hospital
Leaders in mental health care for children for 90 years

Gratitude Stories - Shea

Bradley Hospital’s Intensive PARC Program Helped Shea Overcome Debilitating OCD

Gratitude at Bradley Hospital - Shea
Shea, pictured in the foreground, with her older sister. 

Many kids are picky eaters. But Kim and her husband, Felix, grew alarmed when their six-year-old’s behavior around eating became extreme. Their daughter Shea would regularly refuse food, saying she was afraid it would make her sick.

 The little girl’s weight dropped as she continued to refrain from eating. Her family eventually found some answers when her doctors, near their home in Arlington, Massachusetts, diagnosed her with Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), a condition that involves not eating certain foods or extremely limited eating.

“It was so hard,” Kim recalls. “We just didn't know how to help her.”

As Shea’s symptoms evolved over time, her doctors believed that her food restriction seemed increasingly related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), in addition to ARFID. When she was 7, they referred her to the Intensive Program for OCD and Related Disorders within the Pediatric Anxiety Research Center (PARC) at Bradley Hospital and were hopeful that the hospital’s highly specialized program could provide the intensive care she needed.

They were right. And given Shea’s medical status, there was no time to waste. Shea spent months receiving care at Bradley.

“When Shea came to us, we agreed that the OCD and ARFID were overlapping a lot, and it’s not uncommon to see them presenting together,” says Elizabeth Brannan, MD, a Bradley Hospital psychiatrist who treated Shea. “Unfortunately, the more malnourished the child, the harder it is for their brain to learn during the long-term change process that is exposure therapy for OCD. So, we needed to support her nutrition while treating her OCD at the same time.”

At Bradley, Shea participated in daily exposure therapy, a highly effective form of treatment for OCD and other anxiety-related disorders. With significant effort from Shea and her parents, and support and coaching from a multidisciplinary team of medical professionals, she incrementally confronted her fears and built up her ability to tolerate distress around her fears of contamination and vomiting, which were driving much of her food refusal.

Kim is grateful for the program’s family-centered approach. “Shea’s treatment was life-changing for our whole family,” she says. “Her doctors truly met us where we were and were always open to feedback.”

 After five or six weeks in the program, Kim began noticing Shea’s improvements and “we started having weekends that felt like normal family life.” After 11 weeks, she was able to step down to a less intensive level of care closer to home.

Thanks to her treatment, Shea has been able to do things she wouldn’t have been able to do before, like attend overnight camp and participate in Irish step dancing classes. And she’s putting on weight, slowly but steadily.

“What Bradley did for her was so incredible that it brings me to tears,” Kim says.

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