Part II: Dangerous Extremes

A-Third Of Women With Eating Disorders Are Over 30; Thousands Die

Pat Melillo, who's still at the Eating Disorder Unit at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, N.J., wants to get out for the weekend. But she needs to gain half a pound in order to get a pass.

The next morning is the moment she has been waiting for all week: "Saturday morning you get up with a little bit of anxiety to go in and get weighed to see if you did or didn't make pass."

Pat's done it. She's gained a half a pound. Her reward? A meal outside the hospital with her family -- a plain bagel toasted well, with two tablespoons of peanut butter.

She appears to be uncomfortable at the restaurant, but she's getting a taste of reality – and she's one step closer to going home.

One week later, Pat is told she can rejoin her family. But can she survive in the outside world?

After months of therapy, and trying to get a grip on anorexia, Pat understands that she's in control of her own destiny.

"I don't think anyone thought I would have been here this long," says Pat. "I definitely needed it and I know that now."

"So many people think eating disorders are just a bunch of teenage girls who wanna be thin and that is so not true. It has nothing to do with eating. Eating is the manifestation," says Dr. Joseph Donnelan, Pat's doctor. "It's about self-esteem and self-confidence and how you feel about yourself."

Finally, Pat is ready to go home. When she first got to Somerset, she was 73 pounds and close to death. Still painfully thin, she now weighs 95 pounds.

Her husband, John, is finally getting back the love of his life: "If it can happen to us, it can happen to anybody and it's a horror. Everybody understands what cancer is, but this is just as formidable as any of those, and just as deadly."

However, Pat knows her battle with anorexia will last the rest of her life. She says she's happy she was given a second chance.

Dr. Ira Sacker says Pat can win her battle, but it will be tough.

"The relapse rate in the average person is between 60 and 70 percent," he says. "This is gonna be in their face all the time. We don't talk about eating disorders as cures. We wind up talking about it as a recovery process because it can reoccur at many other times."

Valerie Garcia knows just how tough it is to stay on track.

Valerie's struggle with anorexia and bulimia continues, even after leaving Somerset. Every night she prepares dinner for her family, but taking a bite isn't always easy.

"There is no such thing for me right now as just simply eating," says Valerie, who's concerned that her eating disorder could somehow be passed on to her teenaged daughter, Angelica. "I think she looks gorgeous, and it does scare me that what I've gone through will affect her."

"Sometimes I do feel fat, and I'm scared that I'm gonna go through what she went through," says Angelica.

While experts say there is evidence to suggest eating disorders may be inherited, Pat's daughter, Beth, believes she won't follow in her mother's footsteps.

"I think I'm gonna believe that I've learned from this experience and I'm not even going to go there," says Beth.

Pat is holding her own at home. "I'm enjoying life. There's something obviously I've been missing all these years and it's a welcome change," says Pat, whose health problems are improving, but who still needs to gain weight.

"I'm very optimistic but I don't want to see her slip," says husband John. "She's maintaining fine now but I wanna start seeing a program where she gains weight and eats more, and I think we're working toward that but, you know, time will tell."

These days, Pat is taking life one meal at a time. And she's hoping she's said goodbye forever to her old eating habits.

"Haven't had a piece of salmon probably now in about three months. Pancakes I haven't had one, either," she says. "So, I don't miss it and I don't even look forward to it anymore. It's amazing."

Pat and John, however, say they're anxious to move on with their lives.

"This will be a real good thing for both of us to kind of rekindle the eight weeks that we've lost," says Pat. "You don't realize what you've missed until you don't have it anymore. I just know now that life is just too important."

48 Hours has a sad update: Since we first broadcast this report, Pat Melillo, the Long Island woman fighting anorexia, has suffered a serious setback. Her weight has dropped dangerously low again. With medical help, she and her family are struggling one day at a time. Everyone remains hopeful.
Part I: Dangerous Extremes