Not Here, Not Now
Obviously there will be no lack of them to handle. On Jan. 5, in what could be merely the first round in a precedent-setting case, Judge Rya Zobel sided with Stonehill. She ruled that Krissik, who had taken a medical leave from the small Catholic school last April after suffering an anorexia-related heart attack during a visit to her home in Milford, Conn., had not demonstrated she would suffer "irreparable harm" by being denied readmission for the school's second semester, beginning Jan. 17.
"We have no animosity toward her. If her health improved, our clinical team would do another evaluation," says Stonehill's president, Father Mark Cregan. "But we have to look at the good of the whole and balance that with the needs of the individual." In defense of his school, Father Cregan points out that each year about a dozen Stonehill students suffer from eating disorders, and none has ever been asked to leave. "We've never had a case as severe as this one," Cregan explains. "All students deserve the kind of college experience that we know Keri wants to have too. But if a person is not eating, if they're overexercising, other students worry about her, and they might become distracted from their studies."
Krissik, who still carries only 97 lbs. on her 5'6" frame, sees things differently, and so does her lawyer. "This case isn't going away," says attorney Abbe Ross, who days after Judge Zobel's ruling—which had criticized Stonehill for being "heavy-handed" and inconsistent in its dealings with Krissik last fall—filed a motion to reconsider. "We're going forward. I really think we're going to win."
Yet what exactly might winning entail? Krissik has, after all, battled anorexia since the uncommonly early age of 8, and her condition deteriorated critically last spring even as she was undergoing regular therapy and medical monitoring. Would compelling Stonehill to reenroll her at this point really be in her best interests or those of her fellow students? Probably not, maintain a number of specialists in eating disorders. "There are studies that indicate that disordered eating patterns, when introduced onto a college, tend to spread like an infectious disease," says psychologist Mona Villapiano. "If some kids are struggling with these behaviors, it seems to promote them." More commonly, "roommates and friends are in a position where they don't know what to do," says William Davis, director of the Renfrew Center of New York, a facility for the treatment of eating disorders, which occur in about 10 percent of college-age women. "It's a tough situation for everyone."
Certainly the current state of affairs has been difficult for Krissik. The younger daughter of Dennis Krissik, a truck driver, and his wife, Patricia, an administrative assistant, Keri is described by family and friends as a quiet young woman who wrestled mightily with the decision to embark on such a public fight. It was particularly painful given what her sister Tara, 23, an aide to Massachusetts state senator Brian Lees, calls a lifelong history of low self-esteem.
Early on, Keri began denying herself the snacks most children crave. When the neighborhood kids used to go out for ice cream, she would join them but would never have so much as a spoonful. At one party for Tara, she adamantly refused to taste the cake her mother had bought. Recalls Keri's childhood best friend Edward Austrian, now 16: "I never in my life have seen that girl eat."
Although Keri routinely restricted her eating, her weight "would go in cycles," her sister says. According to Tara, denying herself food became Keri's way of handling stressful or unhappy situations: "Any setbacks in her self-confidence caused setbacks in her health." Over the past dozen years, Tara says, Keri's weight has occasionally been close to a healthy level, but it plummeted twice when best friends moved away. "She's been in and out of hospitals. She's been through more than most people have at her age," says Tara. "It's been hard on our family. It's been so long, and we care so much about her."
While Krissik, now in her junior year, pursues her legal battle, she is preparing to return, if necessary, to Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, not far from her parents' home. A psychology major—who after her cardiac crisis had a defibrillator implanted to regulate her heart rate—she enrolled there last fall following Stonehill's refusal to readmit her. Unlike Stonehill, however, Albertus Magnus does not offer courses in Krissik's minor, health care administration, which she feels are vital to her goal of working to assist others with anorexia. "She wants to help others in her situation," says her sister. "But she knows she first has to get well herself."
Jennifer Longley in Easton and Rebecca Paley in Milford