Athens Review, Athens, Texas

Local News

November 13, 2013

The Girl in the Closet PART 4 OF 8

Lauren begins long journey on the road to hope


Athens — Strides in the hospital

Lauren was in the hospital for about five weeks, and Sabrina Kavanaugh was there every day and most nights.

Lauren could only eat small meals — six or so a day — because she had been starved so long, her stomach lacked the enzymes required to break down food.

Nurses gave her a little watch, and after each meal, they’d show her where the hands of the clock needed to be before she could eat again.

Even so, she hoarded food. She’d take two bites of a banana and then hide the rest in her pillowcase.

Lauren’s other reflexes were less predictable.

She didn’t always like to be touched and preferred to suffer in solitude after medical procedures. When nurses would try to soothe her, she’d flinch.

And she never wanted to be alone.

One afternoon, when the Kavanaughs took her outside barefoot, Lauren started screaming. She thought something was biting her feet — she had never felt grass.

Lauren gained weight and strength at Children’s, but doctors weren’t sure what was ahead.

Her brain had atrophied from malnutrition and she was intellectually delayed, but there was no way to know if she would be able to catch up.

The most troubling questions were emotional — for six years, during a time when kids are being hugged and told they’re smart and having every boo-boo kissed, Lauren was being tortured.

Scott sat the Kavanaughs down the day they were to take her home.

Her face was stern. She said Lauren was not retarded and shouldn’t be treated that way.

But Sabrina Kavanaugh said that’s where her guidance ended.

“We’ve had children who’ve been beaten,” Scott told them. “We’ve had children who have been starved. We’ve had children who’ve been sexually abused and neglected and psychologically abused.

“But we’ve never had a child who’s had it all.”

The upshot?

Doctors had no idea what to expect.

Friday, How Lauren had changed, and how she was the same.

The original series of Girl in Closet published in the Dallas Morning News. For video interviews visit the Dallas Morning News website at

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