Eleven years ago, after seven months of inpatient treatment for her eating disorder, my 15-year-old daughter was abruptly and unexpectedly discharged from the hospital. We had no prior notice at all. We were called in for an urgent meeting, but we were not told what it was about, even after I asked. We were absolutely shocked when they told us to take our daughter and leave. When we responded that we didn’t bring a suitcase or anything to carry her clothes home in, we were told that we could come back and get her possessions the next day. We were brutally dismissed.
When the shock wore off, the panic set in. Despite seven months of hospitalization, and despite being at a healthier weight, my daughter was still extremely ill. In many ways, she was actually in a worse state than when she entered the hospital. And they were sending her home, knowing that she had absolutely no continuum of care and no follow-up treatment in place.
The hospital staff had started talking to us about what type of step-down program would best suit my daughter upon her discharge, but we hadn’t made serious inquiries into any options because we were told that it would take time for them to make adjustments to my daughter’s food plan and to prepare my daughter before she returns to her family and friends after such a long time in the hospital. We were told that her release would be a process. And then all of a sudden, there was no process, there was no time, there was no warning, there was no consideration for what was going to happen to my daughter once she walked out of the door. After seven months of caring for my daughter, it was apparent that no one actually cared.
My daughter was not well enough to return to school at that point. Each meal was a battleground, and life was truly hell on earth. She was struggling, and we were struggling.
Truth be told, even had my daughter not been unceremoniously released from inpatient treatment, we still would have had a hard time finding that critical continuum of care. The system here in Israel did not have a program in place that would have given my daughter the type of treatment that she so desperately needed to get back on her feet and to return to the life that was viciously interrupted by her eating disorder.
While many people complain about the gaps in our health care system that impede eating disorder recovery and lead to the tragic loss of life, it is rare to find people who have the raw energy and determination to fill those gaps and provide relief to those who are suffering. The Pardes family is a stellar example of how to channel intense grief, loss, and sorrow into productivity, activism, and the preservation of life.
Daniella Pardes was only 14 years old when she died in December, 2017 after a struggle with anorexia nervosa . Daniella loved working with dogs; it sounds to me like taking care of them during her illness helped quiet her demons and give her peace. After Daniella tragically left this world, her loved ones felt that the best way to pay tribute to her memory was to open a therapeutic program that provides rehabilitation in a day setting to adolescents with eating disorders and to adolescents with other mental challenges. This program, aptly named Beit Daniella (Daniella’s Den), which puts an emphasis on animal assisted therapy, serves as a desperately needed stepping-stone from inpatient treatment to re-entry into life for those who need a therapeutic setting that provides rehabilitation, empowerment, and lots of warmth.
I was privileged to attend the opening ceremony of Beit Daniella this past Friday morning, and I walked away truly inspired.
The first thing that impressed me was the grace of the Pardes family. Listening to the speeches given by various family members, I was in awe of how gracefully they all carried themselves during what must have been an excruciatingly difficult and emotionally charged ceremony. In addition, this family is obviously filled with intense purpose and the resolute will to achieve what they set out to create. Getting Beit Daniella up and running less than a year and a half after Daniella’s death speaks to their raw power and determination to memorialize Daniella by providing an innovative therapeutic program that has the potential to save others who suffer the way that she did. It sounds like a program that she would have loved.
I was also struck by the warm and nurturing nature of the professional staff, each one of whom spoke during the ceremony. It is evident to me that these are people who care greatly about the adolescents who they treat, who are truly vested in the mission of Beit Daniella, and who know how to create a supportive, healing, and empowering therapeutic environment.
I told Hadassa Pardes, Daniella’s mother, that my daughter really could have used a place like Beit Daniella after she was discharged from the hospital without any type of continuum of care, with nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no rehabilitation help. It could have been a game changer. And I am sure that Beit Daniella will be a game changer, and a life saver, for many adolescents suffering from eating disorders and other mental illnesses.
I hope that going forward, more gaps in the mental health care system will be evaluated, addressed, and filled. I pray that this will be done as a new standard of care, and not as a memorial to those who have fallen victim in the most tragic possible way.