Eating Disorder Makes It "Hard To Be Mickey"

Mickey Phernetton
Mickey Phernetton

Reporter: Shannon Samson

Seven-year-old Mickey Phernetton is learning math, a welcome distraction from her constant fixation on food.

At birth, her extremely low muscle tone made it appear she was failing to thrive. But soon after, she went into the second stage of Prader-Willi Syndrome, thriving too well. It's a genetic abnormality that affects her hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates hunger and fullness.

Mickey's father Patrick says, "Not only is she hungry all the time, her metabolism is half the speed of a regular person. So she can only maintain half the calories." If left alone, Mickey would eat everything in sight. So there is no food lying around in the kitchen. It's all kept in the garage and rationed out according to a carefully planned menu.

Mickey's mother Lisa says, "The challenge is to stretch as much food into 1,200 calories as you can possibly get." Luckily, Mickey doesn't seek food as aggresively as other Prader-Willi patients. Patrick says, "Some literally have to be locked in their rooms at night or they'll go forage for food. In stores, they'll shoplift or take money from peoples' purses." So far, all that's needed to keep Mickey upstairs at night is a gate. Otherwise, brother Tyler says, "She would probably have snuck food from downstairs. She'd probably be sneaking some right now. It's hard to be Mickey."

And it's hard to think about what's in store for Mickey. The disease causes developmental delays and puts her at risk for osteoporosis, scoliosis and diabetes. Proceeds from a benefit concert featuring country acts Kevin Sharp and hometown news and gospel singer Jarrod Haase will go to Prader-Willi research so maybe someday Mickey won't have to be watched so closely.

Mickey's dad is an Evansville police officer and wants to split the proceeds with fellow officer Nathan Schroer, who needs a bone marrow transplant to treat his leukemia. The benefit concert is this Thursday at Christian Fellowship Church on Evansville's north side. Tickets are $10 and are available at the door.