Part 2 

The Fight of his Life

Beyond caring for Angela's anorexia and bulimia, Morrissey was a full-time dad for the first time in his life. "All of a sudden, you're an instant parent, and that's a big change," he recalls. "Life changed significantly. There's another person you're responsible for. Everything you do you have to ask, 'How does this affect Angela? How does she interpret that?' I could not be the same. I used to be out a lot; I used to work late, go work out, stop and eat at the Capital Club and be home at 10 or 10:30. Now I had to make sure to get home."

On Morrissey's riverfront estate, next door to sausage magnate and country star Jimmy Dean's home, Angela would jet ski, water-ski, jump off the rope swing and go tubing on the river with her dad. They went ice-skating and took skiing trips to West Virginia and Colorado. Encouraging her interest in acting, they both enrolled in an acting class at the University of Richmond. She accompanied him to court trials around the state and helped out around his office. At night, over dinner, she would give him her impressions of lawyers, judges, prosecutors and juries. On Sundays, they attended mass at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart together.

"I very much miss her," Morrissey says, looking back on the two months she's been gone to Johns Hopkins. "She is the type of young lady that is fun to do things with. We're very competitive. We play games, the alphabet game in the car. Every night, we play Stratego and we play cards. I enjoy having her around. The only bad time is when I see her hurting herself, and that's very demoralizing."

Despite enjoying all the opportunities that her father could make available to her, Angela never stopped hurting herself.

She says the problems began again because she felt alienated from the other students at John Rolfe Middle School, where she enrolled early this year as an 8th grader. They were from the country, she was from the suburbs. They all knew each other. She was a stranger, and what's more, she was the daughter of a local celebrity, known for his TV commercials, billboards, and flashy green Jaguar with the "FIGHT 4U" license plates.

"Just to get me mad, they'll say 'Your dad's in jail, he's a crackhead.' I tell them it's not true. I tell them the facts," Angela says angrily. "I just say that's his job and he's doing what he's getting paid to do. If a doctor had to give surgery to a crackhead or a murderer, they'd do it."

At home, Angela had some jealousy over Morrissey's girlfriend, though Morrissey and Angela's mother say Harris, an art student, is kind to her.

Morrissey arranged for her to take horseback riding lessons a couple afternoons a week. Most other afternoons were taken up with doctors appointments — pediatricians, group therapy and psychiatrists appointments, about six hours worth a week. Though Morrissey travels the state and is often tied up in court cases, he would make most of the appointments, he says, or have staffers drop her off and he'd pick her up.

He'd have snacks brought to her school and says school officials were wonderful about reporting her problems to him.

"If we had this conversation once, we had it 1,000 times: I'd tell her, 'Angela, I defend people for the worst crimes there are. I see the worst in people. No one is going to fool me, especially not my 13-year-old daughter,'" Morrissey says.

Still, Angela's mother believes Morrissey didn't fully appreciate the severity of Angela's problems. "She was left alone a lot; she had no structure because he was busy," she says, a fact that Morrissey disputes, though he and Angela's mother say they both work together well when it comes to Angela and have no ill feelings toward each other.

Either way, her problems began manifesting very soon.

Morrissey watched her eating habits closely, Angela says, so instead of restricting her food again, she began throwing up in secret.

On a skiing trip to West Virginia, friends overheard Angela vomiting in the bathroom. After that trip, Morrissey promised to take her skiing in the Colorado Rockies this spring if she met her goal weight and didn't binge and purge. She said she was doing fine. Then one night he heard her throwing up.

She knew if she did it, she couldn't go, and yet she did it anyway, Morrissey notes with frustration. He struggles to understand her addiction. As a former high-school and college wrestler, he knows about dieting and exercise, but he has trouble understanding Angela's obsession. She is incredibly intelligent and well-spoken, she understands all sorts of arcane points of nutrition and knows the damage she's doing to her body, and yet she can't stop.

The ways that anorexia and bulimia can damage the body are myriad. On the superficial level, there's tooth decay from repeated exposure to stomach acid, which so far, Angela seems to have escaped. (Other symptoms associated with anorexia and/or bulimia include loss of menstruation, headaches, constipation and diarrhea, hair loss, depression and irregular heart beats.)

Another condition associated with eating disorders is osteoporosis, a weakening of the bones brought on by calcium deficiency. It's usually seen in older women. Angela already is in the early stages of it, according to her doctors. It could end up limiting her activities, her mother worries.

There are also far more serious consequences from eating disorders, such as kidney, liver and heart damage, cardiac arrest and death.

After Morrissey heard her throw up, they had a long conversation, and he relented and decided to let her go to the Rockies. He's now not sure if it was the right decision. On the way home, they were detained at Denver International Airport when her luggage was searched after it set off the metal detector.

Inside, guards found rolls of coins, wrapped in tape. When Morrissey asked why she had them, she admitted that she was sneaking the coin rolls in her pockets when she was being weighed by him and her doctors.

Angela is obsessed with fashion magazines and models. Morrissey remembers one time watching her pull open a magazine with a picture of a beautiful model. With a blue marker, Angela traced inside the model's contours, taking off an inch on both sides.

They'd go to restaurants and Morrissey would chide her for eating "bird portions."

Like a lot of women with weight disorders, Angela would also exercise compulsively. "I'd hear her in her room doing crunches. She'd do them for 60 minutes," Morrissey recalls. She's still exercising at night in the hospital, he says: "To her, it's horrific she could get over 90 pounds, so she goes in her room and exercises."

Then there are the times Morrissey found wrappers of food or loaves of bread hidden in her room under the bed. She was bingeing and purging at night, he discovered. He began having her brought to his law office in the afternoons where she could be supervised, but there she binged and purged on packets of Nabs and hot cocoa mix.

They had to reach some compromises, he says. Instead of vomiting when she felt too full, he encouraged her to jog. He thinks it's better health-wise, and it's a key point of disagreement between him and the physicians at Johns Hopkins, who won't let her exercise. Morrissey thinks it's good for her to be active and involved in sports.

"I was convinced when she came to live with me that that would be the end of her anorexia. I really thought that," Morrissey says. Now he knows better. The average anorexia and bulimia sufferer is in active danger of relapses for at least seven years and then struggles with it the rest of her life, food a constant reminder and enemy of the dichotomy between her actual self and the self she sees in her head.

A more troubling statistic, Morrissey confides, is that Angela's doctors have told him that 20 to 25 percent of girls with problems as severe as Angela's die.

But Angela doesn't accept that. "I don't think it will really happen to me," she says almost glibly. And until she does accept this, her parents are worried it's always a threat.

Her life in the hospital is like that of an inmate. She wakes at 6 a.m. and is weighed in a gown. When she goes to the bathroom, a nurse must listen outside the door to make sure she doesn't throw up. It's hardly the glamorous life anorexics must envision goes along with being thin. She is locked on the ward for most of the day, going to school in the hospital, taking occupational therapy classes and meeting in group therapy. Her meals are closely monitored. Each is 3,500 calories, with piles of meats and breads and fats and Ensure to drink.

Angela is bored, she says. She hates this place and wants out. She also wants other kids to know how bad it is. She wants to stop, she says. Her parents don't know if she can.

This year, Angela wants to move back in with Morrissey, she says, and go to school at St. Catherine's or Collegiate. That probably won't happen, her parents say. She'll either move back in with her mother in Maryland or check into a residential treatment program, possibly in Colorado.

The insurance bills may not pay for all her inpatient treatment at Johns Hopkins, and Morrissey is looking at having to help her parents pay for about $20,000 in care for her most recent stay, so residential treatment, which is less expensive than a prolonged inpatient hospital stay, may be her only option. She still needs 24-hour care, her doctors say.

Angela's mom says early on, she nearly took Morrissey to court over child-support issues, though it never happened. (Morrissey is a little angry about this, saying he's always helped provide for Angela.) Now, she says, Morrissey takes a lot of responsibility for Angela, financial and otherwise, though she adds they still have disagreements over some of Angela's health-care issues and Morrissey's combative attitude toward the rules at Johns Hopkins. "He's concerned about her, he wants her to get well, he's trying to be involved," Ellen Schaefer allows.

Back in Richmond, Joe Morrissey is having a six-stall stable built to accommodate the horses he hopes to buy for himself and Angela. Yet, it may be a long time before she comes back to ride with him again. For all his bluster and bravado in the courtroom, for all his riches, his local celebrity, his beautiful girlfriend, his large estate with the full-time groundskeeper, Morrissey will feel lonely in the saddle.

Somewhere, he knows, no matter how much help he lends her, no matter how many things he gives her, the daughter he's just begun to know is fighting a battle she must win alone.

Click here to e-mail Richard Foster

For Eating Disorders Help

Locally, people with eating disorders are treated at VCU's Eating Disorders Program, a comprehensive, structured treatment program. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call


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