Reflections on 'Fat School'

 Kevin Mayburn laughs during a class session.
Kevin Mayburn laughs during a class session. (Carol Guzy -- The Washington Post)
By Sandra G. Boodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Denise Mayburn knew why her son Kevin gained 150 pounds in a year. What she didn't know was what she should do about it.

"It got so I couldn't keep food in the house -- literally," said Mayburn, a registered nurse. Kevin's compulsive eating, she said, began when she and her younger son moved from Pittsburgh two years ago to be near her large family outside Detroit after she suffered a blood clot that nearly killed her. After that, she recalled, Kevin began coming into her room in the middle of the night to make sure she was still breathing. A year later, her ex-husband, whom Kevin called "Dad" -- he never knew his own father -- died, plunging the 14-year-old into a paralyzing depression.

He began eating compulsively, downing two or three meals before she got home from her hospice job to make dinner. Sometimes he ordered pizza over the phone using her credit card. Every few months he would outgrow his clothes, forcing her to buy new ones.

"I kept saying, 'Kevin, I want to help you,' " recalled Mayburn, who is overweight and has Type 2 diabetes. "I knew there was a kid in there who couldn't get out."

A pediatric eating disorders specialist rejected hospitalization as unnecessary. When Mayburn found Wellspring online, she said, "I knew this was God's answer for me. We needed something intense."

Kevin, who entered boarding school weighing 360 pounds, was willing to go but "terrified of failing," she recalled. "He'd say, 'Mom, what if this doesn't work?' And I told him I just knew him and that it would."

They arrived in North Carolina on Jan. 14 after Mayburn took out a loan for $41,500 to pay his tuition and expenses. She says she has no idea how she will repay it.

Mayburn hopes her son's delight in losing weight -- 90 pounds so far -- will help him over the rough patches. On one phone call home, he exclaimed, "I didn't know I had knuckles!" Recently he confided that he faced a new problem: girls. For the first time in his life, he is popular with the opposite sex.

Mayburn said she recently bought a secondhand treadmill for Kevin to use when he comes home.

"I just have a lot of faith that this is going to work," she said.

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