COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Over the last several years, Midlands mom Karen McMullen has made it her mission to raise awareness for eating disorders.
Four years ago, Karen's daughter, Ashley, was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.
"I was 14 at the time and I was happy as can be," said Ashley. But the Columbia teen said while on the outside everything seemed great, inside she was fighting a war.
"A few boys had started teasing me about my weight and stuff, and I kind of was like, 'if I just lose five pounds the teasing is going to stop,'" she said.
But the former Cardinal Newman High School cheerleader said once she started losing weight, she couldn't stop. Her mom, Karen, knew something was wrong and took her to the doctor.
"She was so dehydrated she couldn't do the blood work," said Karen. "They gave her two small Gatorades to drink and it took her three hours. She sat there and looked at the calories on that Gatorade. And at that moment I knew."
Ashley was eventually admitted to a recovery center in North Carolina for a month. Now, four years later, Ashley said her recovery process continues in some ways, but she and her mom have used their experience for good.
"I found out about NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association) in treatment and thought, 'Hey I want to do this! Just kind of whimsy.' But she like, took my dream and it made it come true," said Ashley.
Ashley's dream was to have a National Eating Disorder Awareness Walk in Columbia, and four years ago Karen made that a reality. Karen also was a founding member of the South Carolina Eating Disorders Association (SCEDA).
"I feel like I have to do the NEDA walk in order to bring awareness, because every day I hear of someone else that knows someone that has an eating disorder," said Karen.
In the U.S. it's estimated 30 million people will suffer with an eating disorder in their lifetime, according to statistics from NEDA. Those who know Karen says she works tirelessly to drum up that awareness.
"I've seen her be so diligent and generous with her time," said Margaret Yeakel, a friend of Karen whose daughter also battled with an eating disorder. "Early intervention will make a big difference so raising awareness, encouraging those to get treatment, could shorten the course."
Because of her efforts, during our WIS sit down interview with Karen, we surprised her with the news that she's our latest Community Builder in partnership with Mungo Homes.
"Thank you very much for everything you do," said Matt Mungo as he presented Karen her hard hat. "Keep fighting the good fight."
It's a fight that Karen promises to continue in order to spread hope for recovery to as many people as she can.
"There is hope for recovery. I've seen it, I'm living it with my daughter and I know recovery is possible," added Karen.
NEDA research shows that Anorexia Nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. If you or someone you know may be struggling with eating disorders, there are resources and details available by clicking here.
As a Community Builder Karen will receive a $1,000 donation from the Michael J. Mungo Foundation to the charity of her choice.