Sara and Amanda Eldritch would take showers that lasted upward of 10 hours. The inseparable twin sisters from Broomfield, Colo., would go through five bottles of rubbing alcohol every day, disinfecting their skin until it burned. They hardly ever left the house. When they did, they would stop eating and drinking hours in advance to the point of dehydration to avoid using public restrooms, they told local television station 9 News in 2016.
Diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder as teenagers, the twin sisters’ lives were consumed with disgust at everything around them. In their minds, everything was filthy and needed to be cleaned. “It’s like listening to someone who’s holding you at gunpoint,” Amanda Eldritch told 9 News. “You absolutely have to do what they say.”
The debilitating disorder made the Eldritch sisters incapable of holding jobs or maintaining friendships. They tried medication, counseling and hypnotherapy, but nothing worked. Since the age of 13, they had both considered suicide, they told 9News.
Then, in spring 2015, the sisters underwent groundbreaking surgery that would draw national attention. They became the first patients in Colorado to undergo deep brain stimulation — a surgical therapy commonly used on Parkinson’s patients — to treat OCD. The sisters recounted the procedure on the syndicated talk show “The Doctors,” in a local television segment and in a publication of the hospital, Littleton Adventist.
The Eldritch family hailed the surgery as a godsend.
“I feel like I can identify my anxiety,” Sara told the hospital. “And I feel like I can deal with it.”
“I’m really excited to not feel like I’m at war with my own existence,” Amanda said. “I can be functional enough to go get a job and make a difference. There’s a world out there I want to be a part of.”
On Friday, the sisters’ success story came to a tragic end. Amanda and Sara Eldritch were found dead with gunshot wounds, the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office told the Canon City Daily Record. They were found in a car, parked in a rest area near a bridge at Royal Gorge Bridge and Park in Cañon City.
The sisters appear to have died in a suicide pact, sheriff’s spokeswoman Sgt. Megan Richards told the Colorado Springs Gazette. They were 33 years old.
A GoFundMe page created for the twins’ mother describes Amanda and Sara Eldritch as “creative, artistic, intelligent, compassionate, kind and generous” people who loved animals, especially their three dogs. They did everything in tandem. They even shared a joint Facebook page, where they described themselves as “actors/vampires” at a local haunted house called City of the Dead and “free lance entertainers” at a local comic book store. They also starred in at least one short horror film.
The twins’ progress after their pioneering 2015 surgery “surpassed all expectations and they packed an entire lifetime into the last three years,” the GoFundMe page read.
“But, there is no cure for mental illness, and they finally succumbed to this insidious disease,” the page read.
The twins had been battling various forms of their illness since they were young girls. Speaking on “The Doctors,” their mother, Kathy Worland, described helping her toddler daughters with the “long, drawn-out process” of putting on their shoes or socks.
“There couldn’t be any wrinkles in their socks, and their shoes had to be tied just a certain way,” their mother recalled. “That process could go on for a half-hour, 45 minutes, an hour.”
Early on, they developed hypochondria and scrupulosity, Amanda Eldritch told 9News in the 2016 segment, describing the latter as “a constant fear of going to hell.”
Their phobias only became worse after they hit puberty. They would each get through an entire bar of soap during each shower, scrubbing until they removed a top layer of skin, they told “The Doctors.”
“Their OCD just got worse and worse and worse,” their mother was quoted as saying in the hospital publication. “After high school graduation, they retreated to their beds. They didn’t leave the house until April of the next year.”
They would use so much hydrogen peroxide on their faces that their eyebrows would turn orange.They would shower for so long that the water would leak through to the kitchen, their mother told “The Doctors.”
“We started losing touch with our friends,” Sara told “The Doctors.” “When it takes you all day to take a shower, you’re never going to go meet them somewhere. They just stopped calling us.”
Their isolation led to depression, and “by the end of our late 20s we just kind of gave up on life entirely,” Sara told “The Doctors.”
The deep brain stimulation surgery was the twins’ last resort. During the procedure, doctors placed electrode wires under the skin of each woman’s head, neck and shoulder. They hooked up the wires to a neurostimulator, also referred to as a battery pack, which was implanted in each of their chests, their doctor, David VanSickle, said in the hospital publication.
“They cut open your chest and then they slide battery packs under your pectoral muscles and hook the wires to the battery packs,” Sara Eldritch told “The Doctors.” “It’s basically like a little cloud of electricity that just pulses through your brain constantly.”
The surgery allowed the twins’ doctor to electronically control impulses from the neurotransmitter, according to the hospital publication. “If you don’t have that anxiety push to always force you to do the habits, then the habits are relatively easy to retrain,” VanSickle told 9News.
Speaking to “The Doctors” about two years after the surgery, the twin sisters said they had seen “huge improvements.” They were cleaning and showering far less and finding more time to leave the house. Sara said she felt like her body had been “hijacked for like 30 years, and then I’m starting to get a little bit of control back.”
“I’ve heard laughter from them, which I haven’t heard for years,” Worland told 9News. “Even though they do have a debilitating depression at times, I’ve seen joy.”
They had started working toward spending more time apart from each other, to ease their severe separation anxiety, the sisters told “The Doctors.” “The goal is that it’ll get easier and easier,” Amanda said.
Some of the people who documented the sisters’ plight said they were stunned this week to learn of their deaths.
“Amanda and Sara Eldritch appeared on ‘The Doctors’ two years after their surgery to share their story of hope and newly discovered happiness,” a spokesperson for the syndicated talk show told The Washington Post early Wednesday. “We are shocked and saddened to learn of their tragic passing.”
“Our hearts are heavy with the passing of Sara and Amanda Eldritch,” Littleton Adventist Hospital wrote in a Facebook post. “Sara and Amanda were courageous, inspiring women who shared their story, even when difficult to do so, in hopes it might help others.”
Kyle Dyer, who reported the story about the twins for 9News, wrote a lengthy post about the sisters on Facebook, describing how just last fall, “their mother told me how her daughters were doing very well.”
“That made me so happy,” Dyer wrote. “The OCD would never go away but … they were finding a path to happiness.”