March 4, 2012 at 9:38 AM ET
Jamie Brady died thin.
On Dec. 2, she walked into the garage of her Normal, Ill., home and had a heart attack brought on by complications of her eating disorders.
"I found her dead — no pulse, no breathing — on the floor of the garage," recalled her husband, Jayson Brady.
He yelled for his mother — Brenda Brady, a registered nurse — who was visiting. She called 911 and administered CPR to restore Jamie's pulse. Paramedics took over from there.
Jamie was brought back to life but Jayson was warned that she would be a shell of her former self. Lack of oxygen-rich blood flow to her brain for those few minutes on Dec. 2 resulted in brain damage.
Fifty-six days of inpatient treatment followed. In progress that Jayson considers "absolutely remarkable," Jamie walked back into her home Feb. 3.
She has a long way to go in her recovery. But as she continues outpatient therapy, she took time last week to warn others about the dangers of untreated eating disorders.
"No eating disorders," said Jamie, who speaks haltingly. "If you're having problems with weight or anything, you need to be treated. It will kill you.
"I did it and it killed me," the 34-year-old woman said. "I was dead and I did it from being thin. Now I need some doctors to help me.
"I had the heart attack because I had a real bad eating disorder," Jamie confessed. "For 20 years, I was vomiting or not eating for a day or two or three. I would drink a lot of water."
While Jamie's experience is extreme, it casts light on eating disorders as an under-recognized health problem that can lead to changes in the brain and even death.
Jamie, a Clinton, Ill., native, began experiencing disordered eating at age 14 following sexual abuse and a desire to be thin.
"Some days, I wouldn't eat," she recalled. "I don't know how I did it." Other times, she would eat but then vomit up the food.
Because she had trouble moving her bowels — and to help her to pass food quickly — she began taking stool softeners and laxatives at levels beyond recommended doses.
"And I exercised a lot," she said. "I was in track, so I ran, ran, ran."
As an adult, her disordered eating continued. Without proper nutrition, she was frequently lethargic, which hurt her work, resulting in a spotty employment history.
She and Jayson, also 34, have been together for 14 years and have been married for 12 years. They have two daughters together — Jaydin, 10, and Dru, 5 — and Jayson has an older daughter — Rayven, 14 — from his first marriage.
"Sometimes, he knew" that I threw up, Jamie said of Jayson. "But I was very sneaky."
"I knew that she had an eating disorder," Jayson said. But he didn't know that it was anorexia and bulimia and "I didn't know it was all-encompassing."
Despite their love for each other, Jayson became frustrated when he would come home from work as a network control analyst with Country Financial, Bloomington, only to find out that Jamie had taken a lengthy nap, leaving him to do much of the housework and take care of the girls.
"I was tired all the time," Jamie recalled. "I was deeply depressed. I don't know why I'm so depressed. I had thoughts of hurting myself."
Other times, she would have mood swings and would be angry at Jayson but wouldn't know why.
"It was really frustrating," Jayson said. "I didn't understand that it was related to the eating disorder. I didn't know I should be screaming for help instead of screaming at her."
Early in 2011, Jamie was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder with severe bipolar tendencies, apparently related to the sexual abuse, and general anxiety and depression.
Doctors believe her phosphorous levels were high because of all the laxatives she was taking. That led to an electrolyte imbalance, which caused the cardiac arrest Dec. 2.
For the first few weeks following her heart attack, Jamie was in a coma and her brain activity was almost non-existent. She was at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center on a ventilator and a feeding tube, among other life-assisting devices. She got pneumonia and had seizures.
A neurologist told Jayson that Jamie wouldn't walk or talk again and she would be a shell of her former self.
On Dec. 19, Jamie was transferred to Kindred Hospital in Peoria for rehabilitation. Out of her coma, she would grind her teeth, bite her lip and push and kick Jayson.
"She looked and was acting like a lunatic," Jayson said.
On Jan. 12, she was transferred to the rehabilitation department at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, Peoria.
"That's where she came back," said Jayson, who remained at her side.
"They were amazing," Jamie recalled.
Therapists pushed Jamie in her rehabilitation. By Feb. 3, she was well enough to come home.
While she's walking, she feels disconnected from her arms and hands and can't do handshakes. She speaks well but occasionally forgets words. Her memory is spotty and Jayson is helping her to recall important events in her life.
She can use the restroom on her own but needs help getting dressed. She can pick up a cup and drink. She is relearning how to read numbers and letters and is relearning the significance of time, weights and measures. Eventually, she hopes to write again.
Last week, she appropriately cleaned off the table and directed one daughter to get ready for bed.
She is eating a balanced diet, but admitted that without the support of Jayson and her family and friends, she'd lose to her eating disorders again.
"I don't have self-worth," she admitted. "I feel like I'm a big burden. I can't do a lot of things. It really, really sucks."
Physical, occupational and speech therapists continue to work on Jamie's rehabilitation. Jayson — who is taking unpaid time off from work — also is working on getting her the mental health counseling and medications that she needs.
Asked what she thought about her progress, Jamie said, "I'm proud."
Jayson smiled. "I haven't heard you say that in a long time."