When asked about her illness, Esmeralda shook her head and dropped her gaze. “I’m so embarrassed to talk about it,” she said with a nervous smile, “I was depressed so I used to eat my hair, and I almost died because of how sick I got.”
The first time
Esmeralda was 9 years old the first time she got sick. Her mother and grandmother left the city of León, Nicaragua, to seek better job opportunities. Esmeralda and her two sisters were left under the care of an aunt because their father had abandoned them.
Despite having an adult with them, the girls had to fend for themselves.
“I took care of my two younger sisters because no one else would. I was only a child, but I became their tutor,” Esmeralda said.
This made Esmeralda very depressed. To cope with the sadness and loneliness she felt, she developed the habit of eating her hair.
“This made me feel sick, and people started noticing because I was very thin and felt weak all the time,” she recalled.
Esmeralda became very ill, so her mother and grandmother returned home, but they did not know what was happening to her. The project staff at Christ’s Children, where she had been registered since she was six years old, decided to intervene. With the assistance of the Compassion Medical Fund, they were able to help Esmeralda’s family with all the tests she needed.
When the tests came back, Esmeralda’s illness finally had a name: trichophagia. This condition caused her to compulsively pull out her hair and eat it. In addition to psychological support for her illness, she also needed surgery.
Knowing this, the Compassion church partner readily lent a hand and helped Esmeralda’s family cover the costs of the surgery. At 10 years old, Esmeralda came out victorious, and with the presence of her mother and grandmother, she felt protected and loved.
Esmeralda believed that her life would finally go back to normal, and two years later, she received news that filled her with joy. Her sponsors, Rick and Joanne, would come to visit her.
“I was so happy!” she said. “They always sent me letters and supported me throughout the difficult times I went through. When they came here, they told me they were happy to see me recovered.”
The sickness returns
But when Esmeralda was fourteen years old, she found herself facing an all too familiar situation: her mother and grandmother were leaving the country again. Feeling alone and depressed, the trichophagia returned and Esmeralda tried to hide her condition from others.
“I would tie my hair up and put bobby pins in the back to hide the bald spots. To hide how thin I was, I wore long sleeves and layers,” she admitted.
By the time Esmeralda was about to turn 15, her illness had completely damaged her health, so she started missing school and days at the project.
The project director, Diana Mayorga, and Esmeralda’s tutor, Ada Reyes, worried about her absence and visited her at home.
What they saw when they arrived is something that Diana will never forget.
“She was extremely sad; her spirit was broken. She was so weak that she could not even sit up, so I told Ada that we needed to pray for Esmeralda’s freedom,” Diana stated.
Diana and Ada knew they had to help, so they contacted Esmeralda’s grandmother and she came back to take care of her. Now that she had the support of her grandmother, Esmeralda felt ready to talk.
“It was the day of my fifteenth birthday. I sat with my grandmother and told her that I was sick again,” she said.
They immediately told Diana, who decided that she would not leave Esmeralda and her family alone during this difficult time.
“With the aid of the Compassion Medical Fund, we were able to get Esmeralda to a specialized doctor,” Diana said. “The doctor told us that her condition was far worse than what we had expected.”
Knowing that Esmeralda was facing a life or death situation, Diana worked tirelessly to accelerate the process of admitting her to the city hospital. Thanks to Diana’s efforts, and with the aid of the Compassion Medical Fund, Esmeralda had her surgery.
The procedure was successful, but she had a long way to go before being completely healthy because the illness left her severely malnourished and affected her state of mind.
“To help her, we followed the doctor’s orders for her diet and made food packages because she could not eat any solid food. We also helped her family get the medicines she needed and set up an appointment with a psychiatrist for her as well,” Diana explained.
The doctor stated that Esmeralda’s trichophagia was caused by an episode of depression due to the absence of her mother and grandmother and told her that to fight the urge, she needed to keep her hands busy all the time.
Determined to help Esmeralda get better, Diana and Ada worked closely with her family to keep her distracted by including her in the project’s activities. One of these activities was a soccer event with other Compassion churches, and this helped Esmeralda discover her passion for the sport.
Jesus & Recovery
With improved physical health, thanks to the constant support of her family and the project staff, Esmeralda’s mental health changed too.
“When I saw that I had finally gained weight, and was not tired or sad all the time, I said to myself: ‘I’m finally free.’ And I thanked the Lord because I had prayed a lot for my recovery.”
During this time, Esmeralda started going to church more often, and when she was 16 years old, she decided to accept Jesus as her savior during a retreat that the project held.
“My tutor Ada and director Diana always told me that I had to surrender my life to the Lord and He would work miracles in it. I feel like the Lord really did touch my life and it is thanks to Him that I am completely healed,” Esmeralda stated.
At 18 years old, Esmeralda is a tall girl, with long curly hair and a confident smile. She is a proud member of her school’s soccer team and wants to become a doctor to help other children who have also been sick.
Project director Diana and tutor Ada have seen all their prayers answered in Esmeralda and they are proud to see the woman that Esmeralda is now.
“We have seen the Lord acting in Esmeralda’s life, and it’s a blessing for us to see her now strong and healthy. No matter the situation, we will always be there to support her, to help her reach her goals and dreams. And we are certain that the Lord will always be with her as well,” Ada said, smiling proudly.