For two agonizing years, Claudia La Bella’s loved ones watched as the young wife and mum wasted away from what she claimed was terminal ovarian cancer. It was only after she died in 2014, aged 28 years old and weighing just 35kg, that they finally learned the shocking truth.
Claudia wasn’t suffering from cancer, but instead hiding an extreme eating disorder that would eventually take her life.
John La Bella, Claudia’s husband of five years, told the inquest into her death which opened on Tuesday he had never doubted his wife’s cancer diagnosis. “I trusted her,” he told the court, according to ABC. “She’s an adult, not a child. I took her word.”
Believing Claudia’s claim that she needed laxative tablets to flush toxins from her chemotherapy treatments out of her system, John made frequent trips to Chemist King at Hectorville, buying boxes in bulk and spending up to $500 a week. “There was always a supply in the pantry area,” he told the court. Towards the end of her life, Claudia was taking nearly 800 tablets a day – four hundred times the recommended daily allowance.
Even when Claudia was admitted to Royal Adelaide Hospital with severe abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea, her secret still wasn’t exposed.
Claudia was skeletal, dangerously dehydrated, and unable to walk without support. But to her husband’s confusion, she insisted he not tell doctors about her ovarian cancer, The Advertiser reports. In spite of her doctor’s serious concerns and strong advice against it and a CT scan that revealed dozens of undigested pills in her stomach, Claudia discharged herself from hospital the next day
Just 10 days later, the young mum of one was dead.
In another shock revelation, her employer – an Adelaide architect – claims Claudia systematically stole $374,000 from the company between 2009 and 2014. Whether there is a connection between the two dark secrets remains to be seen.
The inquest is scheduled to conclude early next week. It will determine whether Royal Adelaide Hospital could have prevented Claudia’s death, and bring some closure to her family and friends.