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Tia McCarthy: 'My feeding tube was my lifeline - Now I eat scallops and venison'
LIKE any other teenager just home from school, Tia McCarthy shouts to her brother, Finley, to bring her a homemade jam tart from the kitchen.
It may be a familiar scene played out in family homes across the county, but mum, Sue, looks like she couldn’t get any happier than this moment.
But Tia isn’t like most 15-year-olds.
For the first decade of her life, no food or drink passed through the schoolgirl’s lips because she refused to eat or drink anything in a rare case that baffled the medical world.
Instead she was fed through a tube in her stomach.
But now the teen remarkably eats everything – and she has expensive taste – her favourite food is salmon, seabass, venison and scallops.
She even rates the family meals out of ten just like on TV show, Come Dine with Me.
Mum Sue, said: “She’ll practically eat anything now. It is just amazing.
Tia at home with her mum Sue and brother Finley, who prepares her breakfast every morning
“It took so much longer than I thought, but I think as she has got older, she has become more able to understand the fact that she has to eat in order to survive and so she really tries.”
Born 12 weeks prematurely weighing just 2lb and 3oz with a rare congenital disorder, oesophageal atresia, affecting just one in 40,000 children, Tia spent most of her first year in hospital.
Tia’s oesophagus and stomach were unconnected so doctors had to perform a miracle operation moving her stomach into her chest.
Tia was just 2lb and 3oz when she was born
Though Tia does suffer from multiple disabilities including perception disorder and autistic tendencies, there was no medical reason why Tia couldn’t eat food after the surgery and the condition baffled everyone across the world.
It meant mum Sue had to plug Tia into a machine every night to pump liquid food through a tube directly into her digestive system.
Sue explains: “The tube became part of Tia. That was the only way we could get food into her.”
Driven to despair that her daughter had never eaten a morsel, mum Sue, 49, took her to pioneering medics at a specialist clinic in Austria.
There, she was starved for three weeks in a bid to cure her but though she began drinking, the then seven-year-old still refused to eat.
Tia pictured aged seven in Austria undergoing treatment
“It just didn’t work for her at all. She doesn’t feel the hunger thing so it made no difference she was just getting thinner and thinner.”
But five years ago aged ten and while on a trip to Spain, Tia suddenly started to show an interest in trying food. Sue gave her yoghurt and remarkably she accepted it.
Gradually bit by bit she begun eating smooth food like mousse, ice cream, soup, custard and semolina, but was still kept on her drip at night which pumped nutrients into her stomach.
But she suddenly started becoming more interested in food and she began trying different solid foods.
Tia pictured with her brother Finley in 2009
Christmas 2012 she had the tube that she once relied on as a lifeline removed from her stomach.
She suffered yet another setback when the wound on her stomach opened up and she had to undergo further surgery.
And it took a while to get used to eating food.
Sue, who loves going horseriding with her daughter, explains it took an hour for Tia just to eat a simple dish.
“She would pull faces and she looked like she hated every single bit of food.
She didn’t look like she enjoyed any of it.”
But now though she still has difficulty chewing, there is no stopping her.
Tia with her beloved dogs at the family home in Alderholt, near Ringwood
“Where she has the learning disability she just takes each day at a time and none of it has really fazed her because she can’t remember any of it, but she does understand now why you need to eat.”
In fact, though Sue was told that Tia would not be able to eat much because of the position of her stomach in her chest, Tia loves a three-course meal.
“I like three-course meals”, says Tia who goes to The Sheiling School in Ringwood for children with complex learning needs.
“I like scallops, ribs, salmon, pizza, fish pie, seabass. I like chocolate mousse, ice cream and jelly for pudding.”
Sue, who lives in Alderholt, laughs: “I say to her you don’t have to eat all of it. I say you can stop now if you want, but she keeps ploughing in.”
Tia, who is a huge One Direction fan, is still under the care of a team of medics who she meets twice a year for review.
She also has regular contact with a dietician who monitors what she eats, her weight and whether Sue needs to give her additional supplements like puddings and shakes high in calories.
Nobody knows why Tia didn’t eat, but Sue says for now she is grateful she can enjoy the simple pleasures of her daughter blowing out the candles of a birthday cake and eating it as well as going out for meals together – something many families take for granted.
“It’s hard knowing Tia will never be able to live independently because she has a lot of problems but now she is eating I think at least that’s something because that alone means life is so much better now.
"She can go out for dinners and at least be able to enjoy food and drink now. It’s really lovely.
“People say she is a joy to go out with and I am so proud of her.”
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