When University of Scranton sophomore Emily Gavigan was having psychotic delusions doctors thought she was suffering from mental illness.
However, they eventually found out that it was a physical ailment that was also affecting her mental health.
Gavigan, who loved to figure skate, started exhibiting odd behavior at the age of 19 in 2009.
She was paranoid and convinced that she was being followed. She called family and friends to tell them that they were in danger and would just ramble without making sense.
“Emily was like a different person,” her dad Bill Gavigan told CNN. “We didn’t know who she was. We had gone from having a daughter who was perfectly normal, happy, vibrant… with a bright future ahead. All of a sudden, this all came crashing down.”
Gavigan eventually checked herself into the hospital where she was put in the care of doctors who pumped her full of various medications and sent her to a variety of mental institutions.
“The medication turned me into a zombie,”Gavigan, now 28, told the New York Post.
Her symptoms, however, kept getting worse. She had numbness in her face and hands and started having seizures. They couldn’t find a brain tumor and she was misdiagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Gavigan eventually couldn’t walk or talk and her condition was so bad that a priest was called in several times because they weren’t sure if she would make it. Eventually, Gavigan’s family heard the story of New York Post reporter, Susannah Cahalan, who suffered from a mysterious autoimmune disease called anti-NMDAR encephalitis, or NMDARE, where the immune system attacks the brain.
Turns out that many patients are misdiagnosed with mental illnesses when it’s really this disorder that they are suffering from NMDARE.
Because Cahalan shared her story in the media, and eventually in a book and a movie, Gavigan’s parents convinced her doctors to test her for it even though they initially dismissed the idea.
“You two have to come to grips with the fact that you have a child with mental illness,” one of the doctors told her father. “You’re not doing anybody favors by grasping at these type of straws.”
Her parents, however, refused to give up. Finally, Gavigan was tested and subsequently treated with medications to suppress her immune system.
“It did take a long time for Emily to fully recover, but there were some milestones,” Bill Gavigan said. “It was probably about a year after Emily was released from the hospital that she got back on the ice.”
Cahalan was sitting at her desk when she found out that her story was the reason that Gavigan was able to heal and eventually skate again. Calahan later appeared on the Today with Gavigan.
Coincidentally, that clip aired the day Mandy Jensen’s daughter Madison was admitted to a hospital for similar symptoms. It was because of that video that they discovered Madison had NMDARE.