PEOPLE WHO INSPIRE
stories by MEREDITH MCKINNIE
photography by KELLY MOORE CLARK
For Crystal Fox, childhood trauma manifested in an eating disorder when she was 15. Her mother left her when she was 3 years old. Though her great-grandmother cared for her, Crystal longed for the nuclear family environment that she witnessed in other homes. This absence led her to seek perfection, striving for good grades and excelling in sports, in hopes that her efforts would be enough for her mom to return. To add to the heartache, her great-grandmother passed away weeks before her 13th birthday. A desire for safety and control in her life resulted in an extreme focus on food and body. The perfect storm of childhood trauma, sexual abuse, abandonment, loss, and a perfectionistic personality led Crystal to start restricting her food intake and to eventually develop Anorexia Nervosa, severe caloric restriction and fear of foods that results in one’s loss of 15% or more of body weight. Due to the trauma in her childhood, anorexia sold her the illusion that if she were thinner, she would be safer.
Crystal continued to struggle with the eating disorder as she started college at ULM. There she played softball and her eating disorder gradually developed into bulimia, consuming larger amounts of food and purging via multiple compensatory methods. With the physical demands of the illness and the sport, she couldn’t keep up and ended her softball career. Still struggling, she transferred to Louisiana Tech after her freshman year to major in Nutrition and Dietetics. During her senior year, Crystal had a medical complication landing her in the emergency room where the doctor explained the serious medical consequences of eating disorders. After several medical scares, Crystal chose to seek professional help for her eating disorder. Crystal felt ashamed of revealing her college major to doctors and therapists. She had yet to realize the power of her future recovery and lived personal experience in her eventual profession.
While pursuing a master’s degree, Crystal fell back into anorexia. She went through multiple treatment centers for her eating disorder including one in New Orleans – tragically, the only one in Louisiana. There she focused on nutrition stabilization and healing from trauma. After she was nutritionally stable, her anxiety and mood also improved. While in treatment, she learned about the prevalence of co-occurring disorders – hers being anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Crystal learned healthy and adaptive coping skills and realized that she had to deal with the roots of her eating disorder to fully heal. Crystal buried so much emotional pain that her body subconsciously expressed those emotions through self-destructive eating disorder behaviors. Every eating disorder has multiple roots – the key is identifying and facing them.
At 26, she married her husband Jeremy, and they started a family. Due to her physical history, Crystal experienced fertility issues, resulting in multiple miscarriages, most recently losing her son Mason this past December. What kept her grounded in the hard times was a focus on the values and skills-based therapy presented in treatment. She valued education, career, family and desired a daughter to give the love she did not receive from her own mother. She now has two daughters, Macie and Maelen. Crystal is now in long-term recovery and is a registered dietitian and licensed nutrition therapist helping others who struggle with various types of eating disorders. Crystal owns and practices at Healing Nutrition Therapy of Louisiana in Monroe, in partnership with Dr. Candi Hill of Hill Psychological Services. The outpatient clinic allows Crystal to help those whose stories she deeply understands. Patients suffering from eating disorders require a multidisciplinary approach to treatment including: a licensed therapist, registered dietitian, medical doctor, and a psychologist. Crystal and Dr. Hill are currently working on expanding and building an intensive outpatient clinic to better serve these patients in our area. Crystal also wants to focus on clinical education by training medical professionals to identify and adequately respond to this patient population.
Research shows that the earlier the intervention, the better. A few warning signs for a loved one suffering from an eating disorder can be: preoccupation with food, weight, and body image, constantly going to the restroom after meals, restrictions in food quantity and type, and weight fluctuations. If one obsessively checks their body weight, exercises excessively, becomes isolated and secretive, has major mood or personality changes; these all could be a sign of an eating disorder. Finding an eating disorder specialist to help is key. When approaching a loved one with concerns, avoid statements laced with judgment or shame, and educate yourself before initiating the conversation. The National Alliance for Eating Disorders, along with the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) are good places to start.
After graduating from Louisiana Tech University, Kerrigan May was anxious to start a new career in a new town. A few weeks before making the move from Ruston to Dallas, Kerrigan and her father visited Six Flags. Between rides, Kerrigan would chug an entire bottle of water, trying to relieve the severe dry mouth she’d been experiencing. In addition to cotton mouth, Kerrigan had noticed significant hair and weight loss, despite eating regularly every two hours in considerable quantities. She and her family assumed the symptoms were stress-related with graduation and major life changes on the horizon. The following week, Kerrigan attended an LSU game with her mother and stepfather. After a year of symptoms, Kerrigan was down to only 80 pounds, despite the noticeable appetite. Her family became concerned.
The next week, Kerrigan showed up to work and barely made it through the day. Ghostly pale, her coworkers insisted she go home. Kerrigan’s mother assured her they were all recovering from a stomach bug, and she probably suffered the same. When Kerrigan went home, she slept through her work alarm the next day. She called her mom’s friend, who lived in Dallas, and asked for a ride to the hospital. When the car pulled up, Kerrigan limped out of her 5th floor apartment. She collapsed in front of a neighbor who carried her downstairs to the car. In and out of consciousness, Kerrigan vaguely remembers being turned away from a clinic and eventually wheeled into a hospital. The staff knew she was diabetic on sight, but Kerrigan had no idea.
The staff encountered Kerrigan barely conscious, taking over 100 breaths per minute. Her blood sugar was in the 600s – a normal reading is 85-130. They gave Kerrigan an A1C of 15.4, which measures a patient’s sugars over a 3-month span – a normal reading is 4-6. Kerrigan was three times higher than average. She remembers the hospital seeming impatient with her, assuming she was a diabetic who wasn’t managing her disease. When she explained that she didn’t know she was diabetic, that her family had no history of the autoimmune disease, the staff became concerned. Type 1 Diabetes is typically a juvenile diagnosis. Kerrigan was 23 years old.
Two years prior, Kerrigan had experienced a severe case of strep throat that lasted over a month. Doctors posit that the virus attacked her pancreas, the part that produces insulin. Kerrigan’s pancreas no longer produces insulin to regulate her sugar. Type 1 Diabetes means a patient is insulin dependent, and Kerrigan would have to rely on supplemental injections for the rest of her life. When Kerrigan prepared to leave the hospital, four days after learning of her disease, she was petrified. She didn’t know how to prick her own finger or give herself a shot. During her stay, the nurses pricked her fingers every hour and inserted IVs and central lines. Her body was bruised, and Kerrigan was exhausted.
Two months later in December, Kerrigan returned to the hospital with a hyperthyroid issue. Her blood pressure was 190 over 160, her resting heart rate over 100 beats per minute. The diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) that she had experienced two months prior had shocked her system, and she would need continuous thyroid medicine. Distraught, Kerrigan knew she had to quit her job and move back home. She needed care and to adjust to a new reality. She would be a diabetic for the rest of her life. Kerrigan remembers feeling embarrassed, as if she didn’t take care of herself. As someone who always strived for perfection, she felt exposed, visibly imperfect.
After returning home, Kerrigan was scared to eat and disrupt her blood sugar. She avoided social situations and let the disease control her life for 9 months. The following September, Kerrigan was offered a job with Republic National Distributing Company, handling wine distribution in the Monroe/West Monroe market. She took classes at the Diabetes Care Center and learned to manage her illness. She decided to take back control of her life.
Despite the traumatic ordeal and the diagnosis, Kerrigan is thankful for her family and friends who helped her get through this difficult time in her life. She is also grateful for the medical technology and all the advances it has made within the 5 years she has been a diabetic. She wears an Omnipod Insulin Pump which regulates her blood sugar throughout the day and after every meal, and it connects to a Dexcom which is a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM). What could have once been a death sentence is now a manageable condition. Because of these people in her life, the family who stood by her side through the health scares and doctors who showed her how to care for herself, she got her life back, and she’s living it fully. Diabetes didn’t beat her.
Brittany and Justin had waited 2 1/2 years to find out they were having their first child. When Brittany gave birth to son Braylon 5 1/2 weeks premature, she knew she had a fighter on her hands. Though only 4 pounds, Braylon bypassed a NICU stay. Brittany felt herself lucky and looked forward to parenting this little “red-headed peanut,” as the nursing staff dubbed him. At 8 months, during a routine pediatric visit, the doctor suggested therapy, as Braylon was not hitting development milestones like rolling over and sitting up. The therapist became concerned after two months of therapy produced little to no progress.
They took Braylon to a local neurologist and then for a second opinion in New Orleans because he showed signs of cerebral palsy. The doctors cautioned that Braylon may never be a star athlete and would not make predictions on when or if he would walk or talk. They remember sitting with the news, adjusting to the idea of parenting a child with significant delays. When Braylon reached 2 ½ years, he developed a severe sickness over the summer that presented as a severe sinus infection. Brittany and Justin carried their son to the pediatrician weekly, assured it was only a viral infection, for which only the symptoms could be treated. Assuming their son had cerebral palsy, they remained on watch for fever spikes that could lead to seizures. Over the summer, Braylon lost his appetite completely, and Brittany returned to the doctor. Her Mama heart knew she needed more answers.
Braylon was admitted to St. Francis and endured numerous tests, labs, and MRIs. His small frame had diminished by 2-3 pounds, a significant visual change. Everyone was concerned about his weight loss; the pictures now still make them frustrated that something was missed. Braylon was then transferred to New Orleans Children’s Hospital for a full gastrointestinal workup – yet still, no definitive answers. Now with Braylon on a feeding tube, and with no pediatric GI doctors in Monroe, they worried about bringing their son home and experiencing complications. Though Braylon needed the nutrients to combat the weight loss, the feeding tube made matters worse. Braylon vomited constantly. When Brittany and Justin took Braylon to Arkansas Children’s Hospital for an unrelated issue, the doctor immediately admitted him. The doctors found a viral infection called Cytomegalovirus had made its way into Braylon’s GI tract, causing his severe sickness.
The doctor hesitated to pursue the invasive treatment, as most viral infections resolve on their own. The family made trips back and forth to the Arkansas hospital for several months, rarely home for more than 3-4 days. A few days before Christmas, they decided to pursue treatment. Braylon’s family brought Santa presents to Arkansas before the 7-week treatment. He was finally free from this terrible virus in January.
But in early February, things took a turn. Braylon presented with 105 fever, wouldn’t wake up, and was sicker than ever before. Braylon was airlifted from Monroe to Arkansas for septic shock. Brittany recalls holding him as his vital signs continued to worsen, the scariest night of their journey thus far. After a few weeks of recovery, his immune system was too weak and the terrible cytomegalovirus returned.
The virus’ return alerted doctors to another problem. Braylon needed a higher level of care and was again airlifted to a specialist in Cincinnati. For 13 months, Braylon remained on the Blood & Cancer floor of the hospital and was finally diagnosed with Dyskeratosis Congenita, which explained the previous delays and viruses. Everything he had been through now made sense. Braylon was in bone marrow failure and needed a transplant that required chemotherapy. They found a donor quickly, but it would be months before his transplant. Brittany and Justin watched their son suffer in pain. A bone marrow transplant harvests all the cells from the donor and injects those cells into the patient. No one knows how the body will react – sometimes it attacks other organs. For the weeks following, Braylon didn’t move, refused to be touched, and cried constantly. They made friends with other sets of parents having children treated in the same unit – 10 of those children lost their fight. They still keep in touch with the families from all over the country.
Braylon was one of the lucky ones on that floor. That little fighter is now 11 years old. He exudes joy and draws people in, as he never meets a stranger. He still experiences delays. He didn’t walk until he was six years old and he struggles to articulate full sentences. He will always have challenges in life and as they don’t know what the future holds, they take one day at a time and celebrate every small victory!
Julie Emory and her husband Daniel had only been married for a year when they decided to try and have a baby. For the first five months, Julie felt the disappointment each time the over-the-counter tests read negative, but in the
sixth month, the infamous plus sign popped up. Over the moon about finally carrying a child, Julie kept the news to herself for the first trimester, nervous that sharing might compromise this new reality. When her belly started to protrude at 12 weeks, Julie finally confided in her friends and family, overjoyed to share the excitement and anticipation with loved ones. At 15 weeks, Julie noticed spotting, and out of supreme caution, called her doctor. Though spotting during the early stages of pregnancy is quite common, the doctor scheduled an ultrasound. Everything looked normal – the familiar heartbeat reverberated through the room. In an abundance of caution, the doctor had Julie see the ultrasonographer for a more in-depth scan.
Calmed by the doctor’s optimism, Julie entered the room and endured a quiet ten-minute period with the stenographer showing little emotion. As Julie and Daniel left, they realized the stenographer had not provided any pictures of their baby – odd. Before they made it out of the parking lot, the doctor called the couple to come back to her office. Daniel stayed behind, assured by Julie that everything was okay. The doctor’s face no longer appeared optimistic. “I wish your husband was still with you,” she uttered. And Julie’s heart sank. They were informed that the baby appeared to have Anencephaly, a neural tube defect that inhibits the skull and brain from forming, a condition that was terminal. The condition was caused when Julie’s body didn’t break down the folic acid she routinely ingested via prenatal vitamins. She did what she was supposed to do. Unfortunately, the issue cannot be detected until the unthinkable happens. Julie and Daniel had to sit with the grief of a terminal child still in Julie’s womb, a child they had hoped and prayed for earnestly.
Ironically, without the spotting, Julie wouldn’t have found out about the condition until 24 weeks when the advanced ultrasound takes place. Julie feels God wanted her to know sooner. For a week, Julie carried a visible pregnancy with a tragic secret. After a specialist confirmed the diagnosis, Julie prepared to deliver their son at 16 weeks, 3 days shy of her 30th birthday. Julie was induced on a Friday at midnight; only she and Daniel were in the room. She requested her family not be present. She didn’t know how she would react during the gut wrenching ordeal and preferred to grieve and labor in private. The nursing staff puttered in and out nervously, unaccustomed to a situation so dire opposite from the anticipation of a traditional delivery. One nurse stumbled over her words, insisting “it” would be very small. Julie recoiled at the term, at the lack of personalization. This was still her baby. 48 hours later, Julie gave birth to their son at 12:05 AM, September 11, 2009, three days after her 30th birthday. Paralyzed after the ordeal, Julie and Daniel returned home – no baby, no joy, just immense loss.
Weeks later, Julie still bled daily, often lots of blood. No one could remember how long bleeding was normal; everyone else had been busy caring for a newborn. When Julie developed a fever and started throwing up, Daniel insisted she see call the doctor. The next month was torture, consisting of multiple blood transfusions, surgeries, and a DNC. And yet, the bleeding continued. As Julie was grieving her son, her body continued to expel blood, often suddenly and in large quantities – once filling a bathtub. When the doctor suggested another exploratory surgery, she cautioned that there was a 50/50 chance Julie would lose her uterus, and with it any chance of carrying a child. Julie prayed harder than ever before, for the first time releasing her expectations and submitting to God’s plan. The surgery determined that Julie suffered from placenta accreta. During delivery, the placenta attached too firmly to the uterus. Julie’s body still thought it was pregnant and had been supplying blood to a now-empty womb.
Julie is grateful for the son not meant for this earth, for the two children she later carried to term. Daughter Landon is now 11 and son Ruddick is 9 – both active and rambunctious and full of life. Julie is grateful for her faith, for seeing the beauty in God’s plan, and for the opportunity to share her story.
Nathan Stanley knows the struggles of addiction and the power of prayer. Nathan’s parents divorced when he was four years old. When his mother returned to the house to pick up some belongings, he rushed toward her. She lengthened her arm, met her palm to his forehead, and said, “You smell like a squirrel. Don’t touch me.” For two months after, Nathan didn’t utter a word. His father carried him up and down a gravel road near the house, trying to get Nathan to talk. Nathan knows the sting of rejection, of feeling unworthy, unclean, and unwanted. Though his father tried to be enough for him, Nathan would spend the next three decades looking for encouragement, searching for validation.
Throughout adolescence, Nathan primarily stayed with his father. Girlfriends and their offspring rotated in and out of the house. Nathan didn’t see a healthy, consistent relationship during a pivotal period. He stayed with his mother for a few months, but she, too, cycled in violent, aggressive, alpha males. One man beat Nathan so severely with a willow limb that he had open gashes from his head to his knees. Another almost broke his arm. Domestic violence was normalized from the beginning. At 9 years old, Nathan was sexually abused by a teenager from church – the memory still haunts him to this day.
At 13, Nathan ran away from home, seeking solace and refuge on anyone’s couch, anywhere away from where he’d been. He turned to cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana – a habit that would continue for 23 years. In high school, Nathan consistently carried a bag of weed, a pipe, and a lighter – his prize possessions. During one sojourn, Nathan met some men who practiced Wicca, a modern pagan religion. Nathan became a solitary practitioner, delving into pain pills and soft drugs. The men used the alternative religion to excuse sexual violence on a 13-year-old boy. Nathan’s grades suffered, though he retained a cool kid persona and fell deeper into addiction. On a trip to California, he tried meth for the first time. The sense of euphoria engulfed him. Adapting to the life of a wanderer, Nathan picked up a hitchhiker, traveled to Salt Lake City, slept out of his truck in Colorado for several months. He was lost, searching for something, but unsure what.
At 18, he followed his family tradition and joined the army. He cleaned up, traveled to Fort Benning in Georgia and then Fort Campbell in Kentucky. He attended Air Assault school, elite rappel training for helicopters. But after a year, Nathan went AWOL – twice. He served 8 months in jail for a felony charge. He was labeled a military deserter and received an Other than Honorable discharge. He landed a well-paying job doing industrial construction, but his meth habit skyrocketed. In 2010, he took some safety classes and eventually returned home and opened his own business. He thought he had his addiction under control. His cousin introduced Nathan to the motorcycle culture, and his addiction resurfaced. He lost his business and spiraled. Over the course of one year, Nathan went from 265 to 130 pounds. He realized he was an addict, though he didn’t want to accept it. He remembers speaking to God saying, “If you’re real, show me.” Suddenly men from other motorcycle ministries started witnessing to Nathan, showing him alternative ways to be a part of a group and live right. Wherever Nathan went, someone from Bikers for Christ or other affiliated motorcycle ministries would show him love and counsel him. Nathan knows God put people in his life to help him.
Nathan started attending church sporadically, searching for the truth. He took his last hit of speed in August of 2017, his last drink shortly after, and his last bit of marijuana shortly after that. He whittled away his destructive crutches and put his faith in God. When he asked his pastor at Pentecost Tabernacle in Delhi why he hadn’t been filled with the Holy Spirit, the pastor asked what he had yet to relinquish. He gave up the remainder of his vices that night. Two days later, he was filled with the Spirit, professing in tongues in front of 25 people. Now, Nathan regularly shares his testimony with Celebrate Recovery. Unlike some of his friends, Nathan doesn’t struggle to stay sober. He feels if he were to fall off the wagon, that God may not rescue him again. He won’t risk his testimony. He married April in 2019. They met in school, but reconnected in the church. Nathan is now the state coordinator and chapter president for the Azusa Streetriders, an apostolic motorcycle ministry. He is grateful for God’s timing and his testimony.