Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The case of Alexander Draper

Alexander Draper, photo from WYFF.

Jerri Althea Gray, of Travelers Rest, South Carolina, recently fled the state with her son, 14-year-old Alexander Draper, a student at Northwest Middle School in Greenville County. Draper weighs 555 lbs and this case has become something of a local sensation.

The two were finally located at the end of last month in a laundromat near Baltimore, MD, traced through Gray's cell phone.

It's difficult to unravel the whole saga, but it appears to have ignited when Draper was approached for 'treatment' at school, and declined:

According to the Department of Social Services, Gray was supposed to appear in family court with the boy on Tuesday, but they did not show up. Draper was to be taken into protective custody in South Carolina after officials determined that he was considered to be at a critical stage of health risk.

"There have been some opportunities that have come along for him to participate in some treatment programs and things such as that, and it's my understanding, that for whatever reason, he's not allowed to take part in those treatment programs," said Greenville County Lt. Shea Smith.

At the hearing, Draper was ordered into the custody of the state due to medical neglect and Gray's failure to appear in court.

When officers went to take the boy from the home, they found that he and his mother had left the home on Goodwin Bridge Road in Travelers Rest.

"The understanding was that the individual was of the weight where it was decided by medical authorities that he needed treatment that he wasn't being provided for by his mother," said Matthew Armstrong, of the Greenville County Sheriff's Office.
After the failure to appear in court, Gray was considered a fugitive.

I am horrified that having a fat kid is now considered a crime. On the other hand, I have watched a lot of those Learning Channel shows about morbidly-obese people, and I realize that the words FAMILIAL DYSFUNCTION and CO-DEPENDENCY are usually written all over them, in large, bright captions. Many of these very-obese people confined to their homes, simply would and could not be where they are, without someone constantly feeding them. (Many cannot even leave their houses, much less shop for food.) There is a point in which family IS to blame, just as a family that kept providing alcohol to an alcoholic would similarly be judged. (Note: my father once did this to me, demanding I drink with him if I wanted to stay in his house, so this subject triggers me a bit, as the trendy young bloggers like to call it.)

What if Ms. Gray's religious sentiments conflict with the whole idea of "treatment"? What if she doesn't think he needs any treatment? At what point does law enforcement have the right to intervene? After all, the government regularly intervenes to save the lives of children of Jehovah's Witnesses (and various other anti-medical parents) who decline life-saving medical procedures for their children. If obesity is an illness/disease, how is Gray's refusal to consent to treatment any different from a parent refusing, say, a blood transfusion for their child?

Gray is now charged with medical neglect.

What do you think?


CrackerLilo said...

Like you, I'm conflicted. No way does a 14-year-old kid get to be over 500 pounds by himself, and the definition of his mother's job is to take responsibility for his nutrition and health. But to take the kid away from his home because he's fat sets a horrible precedent. I'm glad I'm not the one who has to decide these things. I lean a bit towards getting him help even against his mother's wishes, because 555 pounds is such a health risk and he doesn't have to live that way. (If he were over 18, I might tilt the other way entirely.) But perhaps she needs help, too. Perhaps help can embrace an entire family that needs it rather than position a mother as an opponent to her child.

Zan said...

I really object to the notion that obesity is a disease that need to be cured. Fat people aren't sick by definition, although they can certainly be ill for any number of reasons not related to their weight. I'm a bit wary of what exactly this 'treatment' the boy was offered entails. Does it mean a medical evaluation to determine if there are biological reasons for his weight? Because that's certainly appropriate. If he's got an underlying medical condition that's causing him to gain, that certainly needs to be addressed -- not because it makes him fat but because those conditions never ONLY make you fat, they adversely affect organs, etc. (For example: My aunt was very overweight, what some call a 'death-fattie', when she had a stroke at 42. She didn't have the stroke because she was fat. She had the stroke because she had an undiagnosed auto immune disease that was destroying her blood vessels and made it IMPOSSIBLE for her to lose weight, although she spent nearly every moment of every day trying desperately too. But because of the fucked up attitude our society has toward fat people, everyone just told her she wasn't trying hard enough. And so, it killed her. Not her fat, but the damned disease that was causing it because no one would believe she was fat for any reason other than she ate too much. After she died, we got medical proof that she hadn't been lying at all -- which WE all knew, but no one else seemed to want to accept. And yes, I'm still really bitter about it.)

The problem with saying 'he needs to lose weight' is that there's no proven way to lose the kind of weight this boy is looking at and keep it off. Not without severe calorie restriction, which puts the body into a state of starvation, which is certainly not healthy either. His weight, at his age, suggests the there is likely something underlying the condition -- something medical, maybe, but perhaps it's something more than that. I don't know about the area he's living in, but I do know there are neighborhoods where I live where it is INSANE to go outside and wander about, which seriously limits how active a person can be. Being sedintary can certainly lead to weight gain, but he may live in a place where it's just not safe to go outside and run around. (I'm not making assumptions that this IS the case, but it is a possiblity.)

I don't buy for a minute the idea that he/his family just needs to be 'educated' about weight. Fat people know we're fat. We get hit with it all the fracking time. I just have to wonder what sort of things have been tried before, what does this 'treatment' entail? Because seriously, I have a suspicion it's nothing helpful. More likely placing the boy on a starvation diet and enforced exercise program. (And no, I'm not opposed to exercise at all. Physical activity is good. But I get the feeling this kid will be forced into hours of jumping jacks and running laps until he's exhausted and HATES the idea of exercise. And what good is that going to do when he turns 18? If exercise is something he associates with embarassment or pain, he won't do it. Which WILL be bad for his health, regardless of his weight.)

You don't take a child from his family because of his weight. Being fat is not being abused. I'm wondering what the family's healthcare situation is, if they have insurance and access to a regular physician? I'm wondering if they have access to affordable, fresh healthy foods or if the only 'grocery' store in their neighborhood is the Kwiki Mart? I'm seeing a whole hell of a lot of things that could have contributed to this situation that have absolutely NOTHING to do with parental neglect or abuse.

And frankly, if someone was trying to take my child away from me because he/she was fat? I'd run the fuck away too.

Meowser said...

No teenager gets to be over 500 pounds because of their eating habits alone. Even the most extreme binge eaters out there generally don't weigh that much, and especially NOT at the age of 14. We're talking about someone who's only been eating solid food at all for maybe a dozen years.

I'd have to know a lot more about what "treatment programs" Mrs. Gray has refused before I can say she's a bad mom for doing it. If it's being tested to see if he has a metabolic disorder, that's one thing (although I do think a lot of metabolic issues escape most of the tests that are available right now). But if she's trying to prevent people from surgically rearranging his digestive tract -- dangerous in an adult, and far more so in someone as young as Alexander -- I can't say I blame her.

Treating very fat people like freak shows is something I really detest. HAES (Health at Every Size) principles apply just as much to them as it does to us "smaller fats." In fact, perhaps even more so, because the fatter you are, the more remote the chance of ever even approaching "normal" weight without destroying what's left of your health (including mental health), let alone staying at that smaller weight.

Even maintaining a "smaller fats" weight is a lot to ask of someone if that means they have to lose two-thirds or more of their body weight to get there and keep it off for good. People don't realize that weight loss in and of itself is risky, and it's even more so when we're talking about hundreds of pounds. Especially gaining and losing that much weight multiple times, as people that size usually have, and since they're under so much pressure to get the weight off NOWNOWNOW, it's likely that crash-dieting techniques will be employed, which makes regain that much more likely. (And of course, every time you lose weight, unless it's very, very gradual, you lose muscle, including heart muscle, and you never get heart muscle back once you've lost it.)

Given all that, I don't blame his mom for being freaked out that her kid is going to turn into some bizarre science experiment lab. I would be, too.

lilacsigil said...

So, is the boy sick? Weight alone is not an indication of ill health, but it can be, and he should be assessed for that. Taking him away from his family IF he's sick and IF he needs treatment that they refuse (and I don't mean dieting) is entirely different to assuming that he's abused or sick because he's fat. Additionally, I'd be very interested to see if doctors will actually help him or, like with many fat people, ignore actual health problems (a weight-gaining cancer in my case) in favour of shouting DIET AND EXERCISE YOU SLOB.

DaisyDeadhead said...

(although I do think a lot of metabolic issues escape most of the tests that are available right now)

Meowser, you hit in on the head, my friend. I totally agree, just as no one in the scientific community "understands" the metabolic changes that occur with menopause--they will just tell you they are a given.

I can't find out any more news about what kind of 'treatment' the state is employing with Alexander.

JJones said...


The following website summarizes over 900 court cases and lawsuits affecting children of Jehovah's Witness Parents, including over 400 cases where the JW Parents refused to consent to life-saving blood transfusions for their dying children:



The following website summarizes over 500 Jehovah's Witnesses Employment related lawsuits, etc, including DOZENS of court cases in which JW Employees refused blood transfusions, and/or other cases involving Worker's Comp, medical, health, and disability issues:



Tierra said...

i worry about how alexander feels...he's now under the care of the state-what is that doing to him? i liked what his mom said about how they both need to do the treatment if thats what the state is calling for-that way when she's allowed to have him live with her again they'll both know what routine to follow in their everyday lives. it makes me wonder how he was in school-if he had friends, was at least a little happy, etc. its things like this that make me wish i could reach out or write a letter to him and just let him know that it's not his fault!

Media Tycoon said...

I consider myself libertarian, but this is one case where the government should play some role in my opinion.

This kid might already have enough damage done to him to ever fully recover. She should never be allowed to have custody of any children again.

Just another mom said...

She's a neglectful, harmful parent & should be put in jail for what she did to this child. He got that way over many years, not last week. Who's at fault for that?