The Drs: Prader-Willi Syndrome + Arrested For Stealing Food

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The Doctors: Young Man Constantly Hungry

A woman named Michelle explained that her son Tyler has Prader-Willi syndrome, which causes uncontrollable hunger. He could eat all the contents of a fridge and still feel like he’s starving. Tyler has even eaten dog and cat food, and will go through trash cans or steal from stores just to get food. His family has had to place locks on the fridge and pantry because “Tyler could literally eat himself to death.”

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The Doctors: Insatiable Eating Disorder

The Drs: Prader-Willi Syndrome + Arrested For Stealing Food

The Doctors sat down with the family of a young man with Prader-Willi syndrome to discuss his uncontrollable hunger that led to his arrest. (34396501@N00 / Flickr)

As soon as Tyler was born, his parents knew something was wrong. He had to have a tube inserted through his nose and down into his stomach in order to feed him and by age three he started stealing food. At 8-years-old, he left home for the first time to go into someone else’s house to take their food. Tyler tries every night to break out of his house to look for food and has succeeded more than 100 times. The family now lives on lockdown with locks everywhere and some windows even boarded.

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Tyler said he feels hungry all day long and if he knew the combination to the fridge he would eat everything inside. He tells his mom he wishes he was born differently. Tyler was even seen crying to his mom on the phone, pleading and begging to let him have some cereal. Michelle said the hardest part is watching her son suffer.

The Doctors: Prader-Willi Syndrome

Because Tyler’s condition is so severe, he was at home with a caregiver while his mom Michelle and sister Chelsea joined the show. Michelle explained that her son really is the sweetest boy with the biggest heart, but when the syndrome takes over, “he turns into a monster.” She said if Tyler has access to food, he can’t focus on anything else. Dr Travis Stork explained that with Prader-Willi syndrome, the part of the brain that controlls hunger is basically turned off. There’s no signal to tell Tyler that he’s full, so he experiences ravenous hunger all the time.

The Doctors: Son/Brother Stealing Food Out Of Hunger

Chelsea and Michelle try not to eat in front of him, and it’s difficult to deny him food all the time. He’s given specifically 1500 calories a day and only at specific times. Dr Rachael Ross said 1500 calories a day is hard for the average person, which means it’s even harder for Tyler. Chelsea said it was different growing up, and she didn’t bring friends around because she had a hard time explaining it.

Chelsea said there have been times when Tyler has gone missing and they couldn’t find him. There was one time when he went out a second story window, tying belts and shoelaces together to go get food. He tried to scale down the side of the house and fell. He spent some time at County Mental Health because he has some behavioral issues and has the mental capacity of about a 7-year-old. He’s even been arrested for wanting and actually stealing food.

The Doctors: Arrested For Stealing Food

More than 12,000 Americans are living with Prader-Willi syndrome, which can push sufferers to extremes to satisfy their ravenous hunger. About a year ago, the family’s caregiver woke Michelle up saying Tyler had gotten out of the house. They began looking in the neighborhood but couldn’t find him. Chelsea looked for him all night until she came across three police cars and a boy sitting on the curb. It was Tyler, being arrested.

Tyler went into a house about 10 miles from his own and took all the food he wanted. The homeowner came home and chased him down the street with a shovel. Tyler himself said that he was scared when he was handcuffed on the side of the street. Tyler was arrested and kept in solitary confinement for one week.

The Doctors: Prader-Willi Syndrome Patient Arrested

As of a couple of days before the show, Tyler’s felony charges were dropped and he was no longer expecting jail time. Michelle said he was charged with five misdemeanors and got three years probation and the condition of the probation is to go to a group home which they’ve been looking for, for four years. Michelle said it’s not fair because Tyler cannot help it.

Attorney Areva Martin explained that California and some other states got rid of diminished capacity as a complete defense to a criminal act. Expert testimony could be introduced to talk about Tyler’s condition, but it couldn’t completely exonerate him from the criminal act. Areva explained that the prosecution was concerned about what would happen if Tyler was in a place where he was able to get out again. The good thing is that the family didn’t want to press charges. Tyler recently got accepted into a facility with other Prader-Willi patients.

The Doctors: Legal Matters For Those With Diminished Capacity

Raymond Allen, the defense attorney, who said they were first looking at burglary charges, but the probation allows him to be in a facility that is controlled, which is good for his safety and the safety of others. Areva said the problem is that people pretend to be diminished, and we want the law to be able to punish them properly, so it’s a hard line. Michelle said she’s happy with the home because he’s going to love it there and be safe there.

How do you think this case should’ve been handled? Do you think Tyler’s punishment was too harsh?

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