Wichita Trauma Surgeon Raises Funds for Eating Disorders in Memory of His Daughter, a Fellow Surgeon

By Amy Geiszler-Jones
Friday, July 12, 2019

Paul Harrison, MD, a recently retired trauma surgeon in Wichita, has gone to great lengths to raise awareness and funds for eating disorders.

Left to Right: Rick Stephens, Dr. Paul Harrison and Kelly Harrison.

Dr. Harrison and his brother Kelly set off from Wichita on May 10 for a nearly 1,000-mile bike ride to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. They reached Winnipeg on May 19.

They made the trip in honor of Dr. Harrison’s youngest daughter, Bridget Harrison, MD, who died May 5, 2018, after a longtime struggle with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa that also brought on depression and anxiety.

Dr. Bridget Harrison had been a hand and reconstruction surgeon in Houston and was on the teaching faculty of Baylor College of Medicine at the time of her death. She had completed her medical degree with the University of Kansas School of Medicine, a residency at one of the top plastic surgery programs in the country at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas and a clinical fellowship in hand surgery at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Dr. Paul Harrison retired in January from a 40-year career with Kansas Surgical Consultants. He helped create the Trauma Department at Wesley Medical Center. Dr. Harrison says his daughter was diagnosed with the eating disorder at age 12, after a friend suggested they go on a diet. She dealt with the disorder, along with depression, anxiety and chronic pain for the remainder of her 34-year life.

“She loved caring for others but couldn’t help herself,” says Dr. Harrison in a story for The Wichita Eagle.

“It is very difficult, almost impossible, to make sense of this affliction and the ways it impacted Bridget’s life,” says Dr. Harrison in a release about the ride. “From a very young age, she suffered from it in ways that broke our hearts and hers. I have to hope that future research and additional treatment options will help.”

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. National surveys estimate about 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives, according to NEDA’s website. The cause can’t be pinpointed but consensus is that a range of biological, psychological and sociocultural factors contribute, the organization says.

Dr. Harrison and his daughter’s longtime therapist, Beth Hartman McGilley, pointed out that eating disorders, the treatments for them and insurance coverage are complex.

The most effective treatment, McGilley says, is long-term residential treatment in an eating disorders treatment center, but it is rarely covered by insurance. Some patients may require residential treatment ranging from three months to as long as a year.

The trip raised funds to help the NEDA with its ongoing research and education into eating disorders. Donations are being accepted at https://diy-fundraising-for-neda.everydayhero.com/us/bridget-s-wreath.

Dr. Harrison says while the trip was a physical challenge, it was nothing like the pain and challenges that his daughter endured. Dr. Harrison and his longtime friend Rick Stephens completed a Wichita-to-Winnipeg bike trip in 2016 to raise funds for Alzheimer’s research after Dr. Harrison’s father was diagnosed with the disease. Stephens, who had suggested this most recent trip in Bridget’s honor, was unable to complete the trip by bike but accompanied the Harrisons’ wives in a van that followed the riders.