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BRAIN OP KILLS 4st LENA; Lobotomy at 35 was last-ditch bid to save her from slimming disease.

TRAGIC singing star Lena Zavaroni died after undergoing a brain op in a last-ditch bid to beat anorexia.

Lena, 35, who battled the slimming disease for 22 years, weighed just FOUR STONE when she went into hospital for the pioneering lobotomy-style surgery.

She hoped the revolutionary op would cut out the section of the brain that is believed can trigger anorexia.

The former child star had told friends that the treatment would put her back on the road to health - and even boasted of making a comeback.

Devastated best pal Elaine Denzil, 41, said last night: "She thought this operation was her last chance to find happiness again. She told me that the last time she was happy was when she was 10 and she couldn't remember being happy after that."

Lena - who shot to fame on Opportunity Knocks at the age of nine - was struck down by a blood infection after the operation two weeks ago.

Her pitifully thin body was unable to cope and she died from heart failure after a desperate battle by doctors to save her.

Lena was under the care of consultant neurosurgeon Brian Simpson in her final weeks at the University of Wales Hospital in Cardiff.

Hospital spokesman Bob Burrows said yesterday: "Miss Zavaroni came to Cardiff because we are one of the few hospitals to carry out this operation. She is not the first anorexic to undergo neurosurgery at the hospital."

Comfort

Lena's devoted father Victor, 60, and sister Carla, 37, were at her bedside when she passed away.

Her cousin Margaret said last night: "The whole family is devastated. It has been a long fighting battle for her but she is at rest now.

"Lena developed anorexia aged just 13 and fought the disease as hard as she could. Doctors performed an operation to help her eat but she developed an infection and just wasn't strong enough to recover.

"Our only comfort is that other girls with anorexia will learn something from Lena's death."

Lena knew the risks involved in the neurosurgery but last night friends told how she had believed the op was her only chance of a new life.

Close pal and neighbour Steve Black, 43, said: "The sad thing is I felt she was getting better. Lena was positive about the operation and said: `See you when I get back.' "

Another neighbour Sarah Havis, 17, told how she had seen Lena being carried out of her home by her father last month. She said: "She was lying flat out in her dad's arms."

Best friend Elaine, who also suffers from anorexia, said: "Lena had talked about making a comeback if the op was a success but she was just so scared of it failing.

"She came to see me six weeks before she went into hospital and I knew she wasn't well as she was just four stone.

"We talked about the operation and I knew it might kill her as the anorexia had weakened her heart." Elaine told how she and Lena had supported each other as they fought the terrible slimming disease. She said: "I am distraught because she was my best friend and my sister and I feel half of me is gone now.

"She was such a lovely person. When I had my bad days she was the first person I saw when I woke up and she gave me the love that I needed.

"We were like two of a kind and I'm heartbroken Lena has gone. I just want to talk to her again and hear her sing.

"Lena had a beautiful voice and she would always sing around the flat when she came to stay with me.

"We both understood each other so well because we felt exactly the same about life."

Lena's death is the final chapter in the tragic life of a talented young woman who found fame too quickly and was never able to grow up.

The singer, from Rothesay on Scotland's Isle of Bute, first charmed the nation when she won Hughie Green's Opportunity Knocks in 1974.

The little girl with the huge voice enjoyed an unprecedented five-week run, then went on to score a Top 10 hit with Ma He's Making Eyes At Me. At the age of 12, she sang for the Queen at a Royal Variety performance. She also appeared alongside Frank Sinatra and Liza Minelli at a charity concert in Los Angeles and was invited to sing at the White House by President Ford.

But already the strain of being a child star was beginning to show.

As she started to grow up and lose her little girl figure, Lena became obsessed with her weight.

In an interview earlier this year, Lena said: "When people tried to fit me into those little girl costumes they would talk about my weight.

"I became fanatical about eating when the pressure got too much. I thought about food all the time. That's when I became anorexic."

In 1989, Lena was devastated when her beloved mother Hilda committed suicide. She had never recovered from the trauma of being raped a few years earlier.

At her mother's funeral, the shocking decline in Lena's health was plain. Her weight had plunged to a shocking four stone. Lena wed her one and only boyfriend, businessman Peter Wiltshire, in 1988 but the marriage was a disaster and lasted just 18 months.

Lena was now at her lowest ebb. She was admitted to hospital with depression and given drugs. But she ran off to stay with her friend Elaine in Birmingham after doctors refused to carry out a lobotomy.

Eventually, she moved to Hoddesdon, Herts, to be near her father. Lena claimed at the time that she was starting to get over her problems because she realised her anorexia was destroying her dad.

But the respite was short-lived. Worn down by her depressing lifestyle and surviving on benefits, Lena fell victim to anorexia again.

Before being admitted to hospital for the final time, Lena said: "I have no memories that make me happy. I honestly don't know what is keeping me hanging me on from day to day."
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Author:Harpin, Lee
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Oct 3, 1999
Words:1025
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