VERMILION — A U.S. Army investigation is under way into the death of recruit Glenni “Glenn” Wilsey V, whose heart stopped after he lost about 85 pounds in hopes of joining an elite bomb squad.
Wilsey, 20, died on March 3 of acute cardiac dysrhythmia from an electrolyte imbalance caused by extreme dieting that included binging and purging, according to Lorain County Coroner Paul Matus.
Wilsey’s mother, Lora Bailey, said her son was determined to join the Army and lost about 85 pounds in 3½ months in hopes of fitting into a bomb disposal suit.
More photos below.
Midway through the process, her son, who was more than 6 feet tall, was told to step up his efforts, she said.
He went on an 800-calorie-a-day diet and began an intensive exercise regime that involved wearing a waist band as well as garbage bags or a scuba suit under two sets of sweat pants and a sweat shirt while he exercised.
“At that time, he was also told, coached, suggested, prodded — whatever word needs to be used — that ‘If you eat a big meal, it is OK to vomit that back up,’” she said.
Bailey met with The Chronicle-Telegram in her living room, which was filled with photographs of her son and his paintings and drawings, most focusing around his belief in Buddhism.
She laid her hand on the red, white and blue urn that contains her son’s ashes and made a pledge to mount a petition drive seeking medical assistance for would-be recruits.
“I am very angry,” Bailey said. “The only way I can forgive this government and have faith in them again is if they institute a change in the procedures and processes and medical people are put in place and this never happens again.”
A spokesman for the Cleveland Recruiting Battalion said an investigation, ordered by the battalion’s commander, Lt. Col. Patrick Powers, is under way.
“We’ve got to get through the investigation,” spokesman Gregory Becker said. “We all know what is proper and not proper (advice), but I don’t know what was said.”
Douglas Smith, public affairs spokesman for the 3rd Recruiting Brigade at Fort Knox, Ky., also said the investigation was incomplete.
When asked if recruiters would recommend binging and purging, Smith said, “I hope not.”
Bailey’s recollections were illustrated by photographs of her son, a 2009 graduate of Vermilion High School who was a wrestler, center on the football team and a member of the National Honor Society.
In a photo at the Vermilion-Firelands football game last fall, Glenn Wilsey is on the far right with an exclamation point painted on his bare chest.
While she doesn’t have an exact weight for her son at the time, she thinks he weighed about 280.
He was down to about 260, she said, when he visited the recruiting office in Sandusky in December and said he wanted to be a field medic. His intelligence tests were so high, she said, that recruiters encouraged her son to set a goal to work on a bomb disposal squad.
Initially, she said, he followed a sensible diet and exercise routine and lost some weight, but recruiters told him he needed to work harder, she said.
“By the third week in January, he was still not losing enough for them quickly enough — he was still doing the 800-calorie-a-day diet, and he was still wearing the waist band and the waist band did not work, so he put on a scuba diving suit under his two layers of sweat shirts and sweat pants and was told to run at an uphill incline for an hour and a half to two hours every other day on an 800-calorie-a-day diet,” she said.
By the time of his actual enlistment on Feb. 11, he had lost about 50 more pounds and weighed 211, but she said her son told her that still wasn’t low enough, she said.
His date to report for duty had been pushed forward to July from September, and he wanted to reach his deployment weight of 190 pounds as soon as possible, she said.
“He was monitored, weighed and tape-measured on a weekly basis,” she said. “He was not only worried, but he was being pushed and pushed and pressed and pressed.”
Her son weighed 197 pounds on the day he died, she said.
Two representatives from the Sandusky office came to hear her story that day and shed tears during a three-hour meeting, she said.
She said she was later told an investigation was being conducted, but she said she is upset no one else has interviewed her.
“I have called and called and called, and all I keep getting back is references to the Freedom of Information Act — they will give me no information other than the fact he weighed 211 pounds and was 23 percent body fat the day he enlisted in the Army,” she said. “He was still 21 pounds overweight for active duty.”
Bailey, who works at the Ford Assembly Plant in Avon Lake, said her son’s body was discovered by another son, who is 17, in the living room of their home at about 9 a.m. March 3.
It was cold, she said, but her son’s eyes, bone marrow and connective tissues were donated so someone else could live a better life.
She said she was upset that no autopsy was performed. Matus said an autopsy normally would be done on someone Wilsey’s age, but not in this case because of a combination of county budget cuts and the organ donation.
Normally for organ donation a very thorough examination of the heart — probably superior to what is done during an autopsy — is done by experts who are harvesting the organs, but wasn’t done in this case, Matus said. Nonetheless, Matus said there was enough evidence to come to the conclusion that extreme dieting and purging contributed to Wilsey’s death.
“If he’s restricting his calories and he’s vomiting to boot, it can cause electrolyte imbalances in the system that can cause a dangerous arrhythmia or the heart to stop,” Matus said.
Bailey said she discovered after her son’s death that he had been vomiting involuntary “because his body was rejecting everything.”
In retrospect, Bailey wishes she had done more, although she did her best to keep the house stocked with yogurt, bananas and other healthy food her son might feel comfortable eating.
A few tears fell as she described her final evening with him March 2.
“He was sitting there — talking about the Army of course — and he said, ‘Mom I’m tired,’” she recalled.
She held her own hands out and showed how her son’s hands became claw-like in appearance.
“His body was depleted and was cramping,” she said.
“I thought he had stopped the programs that they were telling him to do, but it was too late.”
Bailey said she hopes people with similar accounts come forward and the matter is thoroughly investigated so her son will not have died in vain.
“I want people to come forward. They need to contact their governor, senator or congressman and tell their story because they’re not going to believe me that I received 200 emails from people with similar experiences,” she said.
After his death, the divorced mother of three said she discovered her son wanted his military pay to go directly to her.
“He wanted to make sure I had money — that I had a house with enough room for me and my other children,” she said. “He was going to take care of me, and he was going to take care of his brothers — 17 and 16.”
Her next step is to mount a petition drive, and Bailey said she is fine-tuning the wording of the petition.
“I need to do what I need to do for my son — and for this country — and that’s to make sure this comes out and people have some type of vehicle where they’re able to tell their own story and all these policies get changed,” she said.
“That’s my main goal from now until I’m dead.”
Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or firstname.lastname@example.org