BUCKLEY, Wash. — Ella Roerh, 17, of Buckley says curly fries are just about the best thing she’s eaten - pizza, too.
That may seem like easy choices, but for the last 16 years, Ella has been mostly on a liquid diet and consuming formula as her main source of nutrition. She’s only been able to eat solid foods for a few months.
Doctors say her story is unique, but not entirely uncommon.
Annie Roehr says that it’s been “horrible” and “devastating” to watch her daughter suffer for so long.
“To have a child sick and not have answers is … you go crazy,” Annie said.
Ella was always sick and in pain, her mother says. Her stomach wouldn’t tolerate solid foods and she would often collapse from stomach pain.
“She would throw up so much that she just slept by the toilet," Annie said.
Ella was born with Median Arcuate Ligament Syndrome (MALS). She wasn’t diagnosed until she was 16.
Eventually, a doctor suggested that Ella see a psychologist and suggested that perhaps it was a mental issue.
“I needed to hear that because it fired me up to find answers,” Annie said.
She turned to the internet and searched for anything that could help them pinpoint the cause of Ella’s pain.
“I read about MALS and sent it to her gastroenterology doctor and he said, you know, I think that’s it," Annie said.
A mother's intuition proved to be correct and Ella flew across the country for surgery in August.
MALS is a cause of chronic abdominal pain affecting children and adults. MALS is a condition in which the median arcuate ligament presses too tightly on the celiac artery and the nerves in the area. According to Ella, that meant she was always malnourished, underweight, and vomiting daily.
It was embarrassing and debilitating for the student that was mostly worried about her grades.
“I was worried that I would keep missing too much school," she said. "I was always sick and, up until recently, I thought I was going to have to do online school or stay home pretty much for the rest of my life.”
Now that she’s on the road to recovery, Ella says she feels like she’s starting all over in life. She’s excited to travel and potentially attend college out of state. Something she only dreamed of just years ago.
Ella says this is like “life 2.0” for her and is hoping to raise awareness about MALS as a contestant in the upcoming Miss Washington USA Pageant. She's volunteering time to speak with local elementary schools and spreading her message of perseverance.