Story, Patient

Finding Treatment for an Eating Disorder Through Specialized Care and Art Therapy

April 21, 2022

Shelten sought help at Children's Hospital Colorado after developing an eating disorder during the pandemic, losing a third of his body weight in five months.

Shelten

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Shelten was a busy, active high schooler in Colorado Springs. He played basketball and football, and worked hard to earn the Eagle Scout rank in the Boy Scouts.

Shelten’s eating behaviors began to change dramatically at the onset of the coronavirus. He began to monitor his food intake, refusing to eat certain things and restricting what he put in his body.

When Shelten went from 170 pounds to 113 pounds, losing a third of his body weight in about five months, his mother grew increasingly alarmed.

“The isolation from school and sports was really hard,” said Sherry, Shelten’s mom. “He had a really difficult time managing the idea that he wouldn’t be able to work out, run or play football. I think when all of that started taking place, he wanted to have some control over a portion of his life.”

On Christmas Eve of 2020, Shelten’s condition took a significant turn for the worse. At the recommendation of Shelten’s psychiatrist, Sherry took her son to the Children’s Hospital Colorado, Colorado Springs Emergency Department.

The care team found that his heart rate was so low that he was at risk for cardiac complications.

Shelten was transferred to Children’s Colorado in Aurora and eventually to the Eating Disorders Treatment Program within the Pediatric Mental Health Institute (PMHI).

Sherry felt reassured and comforted knowing that Shelten was with pediatric experts.

“I felt like if he could be anywhere, Children’s Colorado was the place,” said Sherry. “I knew he was with the right people – and that was a relief.”

Shelten spent the next five months undergoing intensive inpatient therapy to help in his recovery. He spent Christmas and his 16th birthday in the hospital alongside his PMHI caregivers and fellow inpatient friends.

“The kids there were really just something special,” said Shelten. “They all had very different personalities and making memories with them was just awesome.”

Shelten benefited from the Ponzio Creative Arts Therapy Program, expressing himself through drawing, painting and making pottery.

“We did art every day,” said Shelten. “It was really just a way to relax, and it took my mind off things, because I could focus on the art I was doing instead of other things. I think it really helped me.”

Now, Shelten and his mom are fundraising to help other kids who might be facing similar mental health challenges, but might not have access to the care they need. They also want to bring awareness to the need for more pediatric mental health resources and services in Colorado Springs.

“I feel so passionate because I understand what I have been through and how hard it can be,” said Shelten, who is back to playing football as an outside linebacker and special teams player on his high school team. “I was fortunate, but some kids don’t have help because of insurance or for other reasons. It’s difficult. They might just be out there on their own.”

“Shelten would have died without Children’s Colorado,” added Sherry, tearing up. “There’s no way around it. And I worry about the kids that don’t have that.”