Teen chef who can't eat

By Elesha Edmonds

She whips up kitchen delights ... but is unable to taste them

Lynlee Stout is hoping for a miracle that will enable her to eat. Photo / Doug Sherring
Lynlee Stout is hoping for a miracle that will enable her to eat. Photo / Doug Sherring

Never mind Hottest Home Baker, teenager Lynlee Stout is New Zealand's most unlikely home baker.

That is because the high school student, who has built a bustling cottage industry selling her cakes and slices around the schoolyard, cannot eat.

The 17-year-old has an unusual condition that means she cannot keep food or water down. Instead, she is fed through a tube that enters her stomach through a resealable hole above her belly button.

Yet her selections of chocolate, ginger and rice bubble treats, which she sells for $1 a slice in her lunch hour, have become so popular that some classmates place special orders.

She has raised more than $200 towards her dream of travelling to France on a food tour with her Massey High School hospitality academy next year. She is aiming to raise $3,000 by next April - and her culinary creations have won plaudits from one of New Zealand's top chefs.

"I think they are fabulous," said Auckland restaurateur and pastry chef Sean Armstrong.

"They eat as well as they look."

Lynlee wants to train as a pastry chef, despite being unable to taste the food she cooks.

"Sometimes when I'm baking, I try a bite, to make sure the taste is all right, and run off to the toilet because it makes me sick," says Lynlee. "It does get hard. You really want to taste it to make sure it tastes fine or see if it needs something else."

Despite her challenges, Lynlee is excited about travelling to different restaurants and cafes, and attending cooking lessons in France.

"We are hoping I can at least eat something that will make the trip more enjoyable."

Lynlee said she had severe reflux and heartburn as a baby, which gradually worsened.

When she went to hospital in 2009, doctors thought her vomiting, weight loss and dehydration were because of an eating disorder.

"Everything I ate or drank didn't stay down. So when I told them I couldn't keep my food down they instantly took that as I made myself sick," she said.

"I think the doctors were frustrated because they didn't know what was going on. They were trying to get me to eat stuff, but they didn't understand."

Weighing only 38kg, Lynlee was admitted to an eating disorder clinic where she was treated for anorexia and given a naso-gastric feeding tube.

Not convinced she had an eating disorder, Lynlee and her mother spent six months persuading doctors to revisit their initial diagnosis.

"It was frustrating," she said. "We had every test done that they could think of that would hopefully link something to my condition. But they haven't been able to diagnose it."

Lynlee spent almost a year in Starship Hospital as doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with her.

Gastroenterologist Dr Dinesh Lal said diagnosing bowel conditions could be challenging because of the complexity of the gut.

"We do encounter people with all varieties of diseases," he said.

"The gut is a big area. A huge number of organisms are involved and a huge number of pathways could create a problem."

Lynlee is waiting for an operation that she hopes will enable her to eat when she goes to France. "I'm kind of hoping a miracle will happen," she says.

- Herald on Sunday

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