The mystery illness outbreak that has plagued a number of students in upstate New York appears to be growing, affecting a 36-year-old woman.
The illness, which manifests in tics and other Tourette’s-like symptoms has been seen in 17 upstate New York students, with 14 girls and one boy from Le Roy High School alone. The phenomena has caught national attention and the attention of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which recently offered a second opinion to the diagnosis provided by Dr. Mechtler. Dr. Mechtler has seen nine girls and one boy, diagnosing the teens with Conversion Disorder, which, as a group, is known as mass psychogenic illness.
Two girls from Corinth, located in Saratoga County, are exhibiting similar symptoms, and, one of the girls, Lori Brownwell, did travel to Le Roy High School with her softball team last year. Lori and a teammate, Alycia Nicholson, both suffer from twitching, convulsions, and joint pain.
Initially seemingly only affecting younger women, news recently broke with reports of a teenage boy suffering from the same set of symptoms. Now, 36-year-old nurse practitioner, Marge Fitzsimmons, who has lived her entire life in Le Roy, a few miles from the high school where most of the teens involved attend, is suffering from what appears to be the same disorder, said MSNBC. “It started out with sudden head jerks in the middle of October,” Fitzsimmons told NBC News, the tics occasionally affected her ability to speak, worsening to the point where she was forced to leave her job, said MSNBC. “The motor tics wouldn’t stop, and the vocal tics started, and I went to one of the bosses and said I have to go,” Fitzsimmons said.
Fitzsimmons has not been to work in two months and says that while on a good day the tics are sporadic, they are uncontrollable on bad days, wrote, MSNBC. Having undergone extensive testing, including CAT scan and blood work, neither Fitzsimmons nor the teens have answers.
“When it first started I thought maybe I’m going crazy,” she told MSNBC. “As an adult, I can’t imagine these teenagers going through this and for anyone to think that they’re faking it at all. Try living a day in their shoes.” Fitzsimmons’ doctor suggested she also suffers from mass hysteria. Fitzimmon’s says she accepts the diagnosis “because that’s what gets me out of the bed every day. That is my answer,” wrote MSNBC.
Dr. Laszlo Mechtler, vice president of the Dent Neurological Institute in Buffalo, New York said the disorder “occurs in small groups, especially girls in schools in small towns.” “What happens is that one individual—the so-called index case—may have a neurological disorder,” Dr. Mechtler told NBC previously. “And, then, all of a sudden, several other ladies have similar symptoms.”
The teens began experiencing their symptoms around the same time that Fitzsimmons began experiencing stammer, verbal outbursts, and limb spasms—last fall—according to MSNBC. “I want an answer,” Sanchez told NBC in January. “I’ve had psychological treatment. They say this is stress-induced. My psychological treatment…. That’s all they do is stress me out more.”
In 1970, train accident spilled cyanide and TCE (trichloroethene), an industrial solvent, in LeRoy, the location of which has been deemed a SuperFund site. The spill took place about four miles from Le Roy Junior-Senior High School, said MSNBC, which noted that a 1999 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report indicates that some 35,000 gallons of TCE contaminated the area.
The EPA said the derailment site “appears unrelated to the illness” and Dr. Gregory Young of the New York Department of Health told NBC News in January that, “We have conclusively ruled out any form of infection or communicable disease and there’s no evidence of any environmental factor” at the school, not everyone agrees. Fitzsimmons told NBC News she hung out at the derailment site when she was a teenager and wonders if it is Le Roy, not “conversion order” is to blame.