Project HEAL Founders Help Anorexia Patients

Project HEAL Founders Help Anorexia Patients
Liana Rosenman (left) and Kristina Saffran
Mike McGregor

06/28/2012 AT 12:00 PM EDT

One look at college students Kristina Saffran, 20, and Liana Rosenman, 21 – all white teeth, glowing skin and glossy hair – and you'd probably never know it.

But in 2006, when they met in treatment for anorexia at a Long Island, N.Y., inpatient program, Kristina, then 14, and Liana, then 15, were two very sick girls.

Today, Saffran, a psychology major at Harvard, and Rosenman, who's studying special education at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., are healthy, and have turned their attention toward helping others with eating disorders through their non-profit, Project HEAL.

Since 2008, the pair have raised $180,000 through donations, fundraisers and grants, helping send seven women and girls to top-flight eating disorder treatment programs across the country.



Recovering, and Helping Others

Liana and Kristina know firsthand just how lifesaving such treatment programs can be.

Diagnosed with anorexia at 10, Kristina was hospitalized four times after starving herself on 600 calories a day. So malnourished she was losing hair, Liana had to be hospitalized several times for a staph infection her weakened body couldn't shake, and in 2007, was also put on suicide watch after her parents took the measuring cup she used to parse food.

In treatment and afterwards, they began to rely on each other for support, calling one another nightly to make sure they were sticking to their meal plans, and planning trips to the movies or visits to each other's houses to distract themselves from compulsively counting calories.

As their friendship deepened, they helped each other through challenging moments. "I'd call Liana in tears," remembers Kristina. "She'd say, 'You've come so far, and you have so much to live for.'"

Moved by the plights of some of the girls and women they had been treated with – some of whom weren't able to finish therapy because their insurance wouldn't cover it – in 2008, they founded Project HEAL.

"We were really lucky in that our insurance paid for most of our treatment, and our parents could pay the rest," says Kristina. "But we saw people who really wanted it and couldn't afford it and ended up relapsing. So one day, we were talking, sort of idealistically, and we said, 'We should do something,' and we planned our first fundraiser."

From that first event, held in September 2008, they raised $15,000. Inspired, they began recruiting doctors and therapists for a clinical advisory board, building relationships with the nation's top treatment centers, and putting the word out: There are now ten chapters of Project HEAL at colleges across the country and a Facebook page with over 2,500 likes.

One of their grateful scholarship recipients: California native Danielle Engen, 25, a recording studio coordinator now living in Sydney, Australia, who was treated for anorexia and bulimia at La Ventana in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

"I was so sick," she says. "They saved me."

"Seeing that we really can give someone their life back – that makes it all worth it," says Liana. Adds Kristina: "It's an indescribable feeling."

Know a hero? Send suggestions to HEROESAMONGUS@PEOPLEMAG.COM. For more inspiring stories, read the latest issue of PEOPLE magazine 

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