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Fear of food: No help here

Lori Marevich, with 4-year-old Liam. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

HAYLEY GASTMEIER
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The mother of a four-year-old with a fear of food says a lack of specialist services has forced her family to leave Wairarapa.

Lori Marevich has quit her job and has sold her Masterton home to return to Nelson, where she says paediatric care is readily available for her son, Liam.

“He has a pathological fear of food — he’s terrified of eating,” the mother-of-two said.

Liam was born prematurely and has suffered from reflux since birth.

This means he experiences pain and discomfort, “kind of like heartburn”, when eating.

As a consequence he has developed ARFID, or Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder.

Liam associates food with pain, and after a relentless four year battle to get her boy to eat, Ms Marevich says she is exhausted.

“I’m not prepared to let my child starve.”

The pre-schooler’s parents go to great lengths to ensure this does not happen.

Lori Marevich with her children, Georgia, 2, and Liam, 4. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER
Lori Marevich with her children, Georgia, 2, and Liam, 4. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

Meal times persist of many games, plain foods “pre-approved” by Liam, and a great deal of patience.

“There’s not one single vegetable, and the only meat is a cocktail sausage and even that is only hit and miss.”

Because Liam was often hungry and had no coping mechanism, he would sometimes “lash out violently”.

Ms Marevich said Wairarapa District Health Board (DHB) was not equipped to help Liam, only offering “assessments” and stopping short of any therapy which could help him overcome the issue once and for all.

Wairarapa DHB communications manager Anna Cardno said two of the region’s clinicians were trained in the Sequential Oral Sensory (SOS) approach to feeding.

Delivery of the programme, which addresses problematic feeding behaviours, relied on demand, and required at least four children to participate.

“Wairarapa’s small population does not typically create that demand on a predictable basis and this, together with the intensity of clinician input required to deliver this programme, is why the service has not been implemented formally in the Wairarapa region.”

Having now spent considerable time researching her son’s condition, Ms Marevich believes Liam’s fear could be dealt with through occupational and feeding therapies, paired with seeing a child phycologist.

She said receiving this help sooner rather than later was vital.

“Given the fact that we’re getting nowhere with the health board and his eating is getting worse, we’re leaving now while he’s still young enough to hopefully be able to relearn [to eat without issue].”

She had scoured the region for private healthcare that could aid her son, with Wellington or Palmerston North the closest options.

Rather than opting for this, she and partner Hamish had chosen to leave Masterton, where they moved 18-months-ago, so they could live off one income and have a full-time parent at home.

Ms Marevich said she knew of at least two other families in Wairarapa facing similar difficulties with eating-related disorders in children and the restricted care on offer.

SOS therapy is formally provided by Capital & Coast DHB, with Hutt and Midcentral DHBs offering feeding therapy programmes tailored to demand, Ms Cardno said.

“Wairarapa DHB is now exploring options for an alternative service in lieu of being able to offer formal SOS therapy.”

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