IT was meant to be a healthy initiative that would change their lives for the better.
Instead a mother and son’s diet pact turned into an obsession that would prove fatal for one of them.
Melanie Brazier and her son Stevie’s nightmare began back in 2007 when she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
Doctors warned Ms Brazier she urgently needed to lose weight from her 162cm, 101kg frame in order to manage the condition.
Her then 14-year-old son was also overweight, having ballooned to more than 120kg after breaking his leg in a motorcycle accident.
So when Stevie offered to join his mum on a diet, she was initially delighted.
“He’d noticed on his hospital notes he’d been classed as clinically obese,” Ms Brazier told The Mirror. “It upset him.”
The 187cm teenager ate healthily at first and enjoyed the results as both he and his mum began to lose weight.
“We enjoyed cooking chicken stir fries. Stevie was getting compliments and he was really pleased,” Ms Brazier said.
“He bought some little weights and started exercising.”
But Stevie, who had Aspergers and was homeschooled, took the challenge to another level, spiralling into a cycle of depression, obsessive exercising, binge eating and purging.
By 2011, Stevie was making himself vomit up to 25 times a day; he was literally starving himself to death.
“One day he bent over and his T-shirt rode up,” Ms Brazier recalled.
“I noticed a roll of skin hanging over his bottom and his spine jutting out. It was a shocking sight and I gasped. He’d been hiding in baggy jumpers so I’d not noticed how much weight he’d lost.”
He became fanatical about weighing himself and lied about his eating habits.
She remembers: “When he did sit down for a family meal he would disappear to the bathroom for up to an hour afterwards. I’d also wake in the night to hear his exercise bike going.”
His parents took Stevie to a psychiatrist who diagnosed him with anorexia and bulimia.
“(The psychiatrist) told us he’d thought about taking his (own) life,” Ms Brazier said.
“It was like being punched in the stomach, hearing that. She wanted to admit him there and then but it would have cost £850 (AUD1385) a night and we couldn’t afford it.”
‘HE WAS GORGING ON RAW, FROZEN CHICKEN NUGGETS’
Stevie was referred to an eating disorder clinic in Kent in southeast England called The Red House and began receiving treatment as an outpatient.
In April 2012 his condition declined sharply and he was finally admitted as an inpatient. However, he ran away just hours after the paperwork was signed.
“They had been awaiting blood test results,” Ms Brazier said. “His potassium levels were dangerously low and his heart could stop at any time.”
When Stevie turned up at home, his parents whisked him off to Medway Maritime Hospital, also in Kent, where he was put on a drip.
“He was temporarily sectioned and I was told he would be admitted to the secure unit so he couldn’t escape,” Ms Brazier said.
“But they discharged him. He promised he’d eat. He’d say anything to get out of hospital.”
Stevie returned home but found himself in Medway’s accident and emergency unit less than 10 days later after his pulse became as faint “as a 90-year-old’s”.
The waiflike youngster went into cardiac arrest but doctors brought him back from the brink and he was admitted into the hospital’s high dependency unit. He spent another week there before being sectioned the month after.
“He had a mental health nurse with him 24/7 but somehow he still escaped,” Ms Brazier said.
“I was at the end of my tether. He was bingeing up to 25 times a day. I caught him standing in front of the fridge gorging on raw, frozen chicken nuggets.”
In August 2012, Stevie was referred to a specialist facility where he was sectioned again. There, with somebody assigned to him every minute of the day, he began to make progress.
But it wasn’t long before Stevie’s demons again got the better of him and he resumed his obsessive exercise routine.
By this stage his body could no longer take the punishment and a month later his kidneys began to fail.
“He spent two weeks in hospital and they were thinking of putting him on the transplant list but he recovered,” Ms Brazier told The Mirror.
She said things only got worse after Stevie was allowed out for day visits. On these occasions he would go to a cafe and “have a latte with about 20 sweeteners in it then disappear to be sick”.
In August 2013, Stevie was discharged and the section was lifted the following month, leaving his parents no choice but to care for their physically and mentally frail son at home.
“I KNEW HE WAS DEAD AS SOON AS I SAW HIM”
One morning in February 2014, Ms Brazier found her son dead. At just 21 he had succumbed to a final, fatal cardiac arrest.
“He’d eaten toast and said he didn’t feel well,” she recalled. “I knew he’d been sick.”
“I told him to rest and if needed me to call me. When he wasn’t up by 10.45am the next day, I went up to his bedroom because it was unusual. I knew he was dead as soon as I saw him. Heartbroken doesn’t describe how I felt.”
Three years later, Stevie’s family is still struggling to come to terms with their loss.
“I miss him so much and wish I’d never started the stupid diet,” Ms Brazier said.
“But most of all I am desperate no other mum should go through what I went through.
“From the day he was born we did everything together. Living without him, knowing the pain he was in during what should have been his best years, it’s broken me.
“If, by sharing Stevie’s story, it helps one other mum spot signs earlier than I did, or makes them fight harder to get the care their child needs then I know he didn’t die for nothing.”
Meanwhile the health body responsible for the institutions at which Stevie received treatment, Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust, has admitted the young man did not receive the care he needed.
“Communications between those services providing care for Mr Brazier was not adequate,” a trust spokesman said in a statement.
“We have put measures in place to help improve communications channels. Eating disorders is a specialist and complex area and patients should expect a standard of service which was not provided on this occasion.”