The 33-year-old sisters, whose obsessive-compulsive disorder was diagnosed when they were teenagers, were consumed with anxiety. “It’s like listening to someone who’s holding you at gunpoint,” Amanda told 9 News. “You absolutely have to do what they say.”
The debilitating disorder made the Eldritch sisters incapable of holding jobs or maintaining friendships. They tried medication, counseling and hypnotherapy, but nothing worked. Since age 13, they had considered suicide, they told 9 News.
Then, in spring 2015, the sisters underwent groundbreaking surgery that drew national attention. They became the first patients in Colorado to undergo deep brain stimulation — a surgical therapy commonly used on Parkinson’s patients — to treat OCD. The sisters recounted the procedure on the syndicated talk show “The Doctors,” in a local television segment and in a publication of the hospital, Littleton Adventist.
The Eldritch family hailed the surgery as a godsend.
“I feel like I can identify my anxiety,” Sara told the hospital. “And I feel like I can deal with it.”
“I’m really excited to not feel like I’m at war with my own existence,” Amanda said. “I can be functional enough to go get a job and make a difference. There’s a world out there I want to be a part of.”
On Friday, the sisters’ success story came to a tragic end. Amanda and Sara Eldritch were found dead with gunshot wounds, the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office told the Cañon City Daily Record. They were found in a car, parked at a rest area at Royal Gorge Bridge and Park in Cañon City.
The sisters appear to have died in a suicide pact, Sgt. Megan Richards, a sheriff’s spokeswoman, told the Colorado Springs Gazette.
A GoFundMe page created for the twins’ mother, Kathy Worland, describes Amanda and Sara Eldritch as “creative, artistic, intelligent, compassionate, kind and generous” people who loved animals, especially their three dogs. They did everything in tandem with each other. They even shared a Facebook page, where they described themselves as “actors/vampires” at a local haunted house called “City of the Dead” and “free lance entertainers” at a local comic book store. They also starred in at least one short horror film.
The twins’ progress after their pioneering 2015 surgery “surpassed all expectations and they packed an entire lifetime into the last three years,” the GoFundMe page read.
“But, there is no cure for mental illness, and they finally succumbed to this insidious disease,” the page read.
The twins had been battling various forms of their illness since they were young. Speaking on “The Doctors,” Worland described helping her toddler daughters with the “long, drawn-out process” of putting on their shoes or socks.
“There couldn’t be any wrinkles in their socks, and their shoes had to be tied just a certain way,” their mother recalled. “That process could go on for a half-hour, 45 minutes, an hour.”
Early on, they developed hypochondria, Amanda Eldritch told 9 News in the 2016 segment, and she described “a constant fear of going to hell.”
Their phobias became worse after they began puberty. They would each use an entire bar of soap during each shower, scrubbing until they removed a top layer of skin, they told “The Doctors.”
“Their OCD just got worse and worse and worse,” their mother was quoted as saying in the hospital publication. “After high school graduation, they retreated to their beds. They didn’t leave the house until April of the next year.”
They would use so much hydrogen peroxide on their faces that their eyebrows would turn orange. They would shower for so long that the water would leak through to the kitchen, their mother told “The Doctors.”
“We started losing touch with our friends,” Sara told “The Doctors.” “When it takes you all day to take a shower, you’re never going to go meet them somewhere. They just stopped calling us.”
Their isolation led to depression, and “by the end of our late 20s, we just kind of gave up on life entirely,” Sara told “The Doctors.”
The deep brain stimulation surgery was the twins’ last resort. During the procedure, doctors placed electrode wires under the skin of each woman’s head, neck and shoulder. They hooked up the wires to a neurostimulator, also referred to as a battery pack, which was implanted in each of their chests, their doctor, David VanSickle, said in the hospital publication.
“They cut open your chest and then they slide battery packs under your pectoral muscles and hook the wires to the battery packs,” Sara Eldritch told “The Doctors.” “It’s basically like a little cloud of electricity that just pulses through your brain constantly.”
The surgery allowed the twins’ doctor to electronically control impulses from the neurotransmitter, according to the hospital publication. “If you don’t have that anxiety push to always force you to do the habits, then the habits are relatively easy to retrain,” VanSickle told 9 News.
Speaking to “The Doctors” about two years after the surgery, the sisters said they had seen “huge improvements.” They were cleaning and showering far less, and finding more time to leave the house. Sara said she felt las though her body had been “hijacked for, like, 30 years, and then I’m starting to get a little bit of control back.”
“I’ve heard laughter from them, which I haven’t heard for years,” Worland told 9 News. “Even though they do have a debilitating depression at times, I’ve seen joy.”
The sisters had started working toward spending more time apart from each other, to ease their severe separation anxiety, they told “The Doctors.” “The goal is that it’ll get easier and easier,” Amanda said.
Some of the people who documented the sisters’ plight said they were stunned this week to learn of their deaths.
“Amanda and Sara Eldritch appeared on ‘The Doctors’ two years after their surgery to share their story of hope and newly-discovered happiness,” a spokesperson for the syndicated talk show told The Washington Post early Wednesday morning. “We are shocked and saddened to learn of their tragic passing.”
“Our hearts are heavy with the passing of Sara and Amanda Eldritch,” Littleton Adventist Hospital wrote in a Facebook post. “Sara and Amanda were courageous, inspiring women who shared their story, even when difficult to do so, in hopes it might help others.”
Kyle Dyer, who reported the story about the twins for 9 News, wrote a long post about the sisters on Facebook, describing how just last fall, “their mother told me how her daughters were doing very well.”
“That made me so happy,” Dyer wrote. “The OCD would never go away but … they were finding a path to happiness.”