Children’s Hospital New Orleans’ Feeding & Eating Disorder Clinic
Just before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Amy Henke, a pediatric psychologist at Children’s Hospital New Orleans, and her staff began seeing a dramatic increase in patients admitted with serious eating disorders. As the pandemic raged on, the numbers continued to rise, and Children’s realized something needed to be done. So, an inpatient medical stabilization program was developed that offered outpatient care to families who needed continued treatment close to home. Thus, Children’s Hospital New Orleans’ Feeding & Eating Disorder Clinic was born.
On top of the medical stabilization program, the clinic offers outpatient services centered around “gold-standard treatment as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association” called Family-Based Treatment for Eating Disorders (FBT). This makes the clinic the only FBT Center on the Gulf Coast and the first hospital-based eating disorder clinic in Louisiana.
“FBT involves the entire family and is based on supporting the child suffering with the eating disorder in their home environment. We are less focused on finding a ‘cause,’ and we avoid any blame or shaming,” shares Dr. Henke. “Through this treatment, we work to empower parents to take charge of supporting their sick child through nutritional recovery and reinvolvement in typical activities and hobbies that have likely fallen away as the eating disorder has taken over their child’s life and their family.”
Treatment is also offered for feeding disorders where children struggle with or avoid eating after medical issues or those who struggle with Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). Care can include management through their multidisciplinary feeding clinic or more individualized therapies following evidence-based Cognitive Behavior Therapy specifically for treating ARFID.
Of course, no job comes without its share of struggles and rewards. Dr. Henke finds that the most challenging part of working with children suffering from eating disorders is seeing just that–suffering.
“Eating disorders rob people of their lives, their joy, and their personalities. People struggling with eating disorders are often irritable, sad, anxious, and no longer seem like themselves. This is a devastating disorder that often has an insidious, slow onset,” explains Henke. “Often, the people around the child have no idea a problem exists until the disorder is full-blown. This results in blame and shame or even the opposite–difficulty accepting the seriousness of the disorder.”
However, while the tough times hit hard, she does find the good. Dr. Henke finds a joyful part of her job is watching a child truly recover.
“The most rewarding part is watching a child’s personality, humor, and interests slowly return. Eating disorders tend to mute and dull people’s natural joy. Watching kids recover and regain not only their physical strength and energy, but their mental health is incredibly powerful and rewarding,” says Dr. Henke. “Watching parents empowered to step in and provide their sick child with the treatment and support they need is also very moving and a testament to the deep love they have for their child.”
In a testament to the clinic’s great standard of care, the staff has worked tirelessly to give support, love, and care to every child who comes through the door. Since opening last November, they have seen more than 150 children. Additionally, due to their convenient location, they have received referrals from all over Louisiana and Mississippi, allowing them to support children who would have either never received treatment or would have been forced to seek out-of-state treatment. The Feeding & Eating Disorder Clinic staff are excited to continue to grow and serve the children and families of the Gulf Coast.
If you would like to support children in need, there are plenty of ways to help out. One fun way to offer support is by attending their upcoming 41st Annual Sugarplum Ball on March 18 at Mardi Gras World. Additionally, since Children’s Hospital New Orleans is a nonprofit, they rely on the generous support of donors, friends, and the community to provide excellent care to each and every child. To aid a family in need, you can donate online at chnola.org/giving. To learn more about future community events and more, stay tuned to Children’s Hospital New Orleans’ website and social media.