Wednesday, February 1, 2012

LeRoy and Lyndonville

Twelve teenage girls attending the same school in LeRoy, New York, suddenly developed tics and vocalizations—in other words, Tourette’s Syndrome.  Neurologists at the nearby Dent Neurologic Institute who've “treated” several of the girls are writing them off as suffering from hysteria (couched in the sanitized “conversion disorder” to make the diagnosis palatable) and insisting that the Tourette's is totally real yet completely psychogenic.  
Here we go again. 

LeRoy is a stone’s throw away from Lyndonville, the site of a big ME outbreak in 1985 that affected mostly children, which the Centers for Disease Control and many local physicians (Dr. David Bell being the notable exception) dismissed as mass hysteria.

Four years of medical school, a three- to four-year residency, usually followed by a fellowship, and conversion disorder is the best the Dent neurologists can muster? Apparently. Next, they'll be calling British psychiatrist Simon Wessely to ponder how the girls' negative “illness beliefs” are causing their physical symptoms.  

Instead, why not consider a possible toxic exposure—especially since a train derailment a few miles from the school back in 1970 spilled cyanide and trichloroethylene (TCE), a known neurotoxin. The site was never cleaned up, and the chemicals seeped into the water supply. Even the Environmental Protection Agency admits it dropped the ball on the LeRoy spill.

But why did the girls get sick 40 years after the fact?  Perhaps because the year before the Tourette’s outbreak the school constructed new playing fields, including a field for girls’ softball. Could the construction have stirred up the toxins in the soil or was more contaminated soil imported to build the fields?

Unlike the events of 25 years ago in Lyndonville, there’s empowerment with the Internet. One of the affected girls, spirited 17-year-old Lori Brownell, an avid softball player until she became ill, is chronicling her ordeal with humor on YouTube under the moniker rodeocowgirl131. In addition to the Tourette’s symptoms, Lori, like some of the other girls, is also passing out and experiencing seizures.

Thankfully, the parents aren’t taking the conversion disorder diagnosis seriously either. They’ve sought out other neurologists to treat the girls, and they’ve hired consumer advocate Erin Brockovich (immortalized in the eponymous film that starred Julia Roberts) to investigate, kick ass and take names.