Rare autoimmune disorder to be highlighted at upcoming presentation

Maddie Davis, Asst. News Editor

On Thursday at 6 p.m., Dr. Edward Schicatano, along with the Departments of Psychology and Neuroscience, will be holding a guest presentation titled “Madness” by Emily Gavigan in Breiseth Hall room 320.

“Madness” is a presentation by Emily Gavigan who hopes to spread awareness about the rare autoimmune disorder she was diagnosed with while in college. It will feature her account of the journey of finding a diagnosis, her experiences, video clips regarding her illness, and the science behind the rare autoimmune disorder that took her and her family by surprise.

Emily Gavigan’s story is also described in the book “Brain on Fire” by Susannah Cahalan.

The path to finding a diagnosis was long and filled with many obstacles and doubt, but Gavigan and her family kept fighting to find the purpose of her sudden odd, uncharacteristic behavior and changes against false diagnoses and ignorance by some doctors.

It baffled doctors at first, but now Emily Gavigan looks to share her story with Wilkes University to reach out and inform people of the rare anti-NMDAR receptor encephalitis she was diagnosed with. 

Wilkes University’s Political Science professor Dr. Andrew Miller had been friends and neighbors with the Gavigans for 1more than a decade. He and his wife kept up with the ongoing story of their friend’s daughter’s rare and almost mysterious illness.

“It was somebody who was a friend of ours, so we were worried of course,” stated Miller discussing the first-hand account of Emily Gavigan’s journey to a rightful diagnosis.

“It’s a combination of being worried about our friend, combined with an incredible story of the diagnosis,” Miller said.

“It was an amazing set of circumstances that led to the diagnosis,” described Miller. “One of the things Emily is trying to do is build awareness. When she got diagnosed there were hardly any diagnoses in the country … the only expert in the world on this disease is in Philly.”

Gavigan was introduced to Psychology and Schicatano by Miller, having witnessed and experienced Emily’s diagnostic journey. Schicatano and Emily Gavigan’s family soon being acquainted and started sharing the details and the science that appealed to his interests and Neuroscience background.

“When I first heard it in person I thought it was really interesting,” said Schicatano. “I had never heard of it.”

Schicatano hopes that with this presentation students will become more aware of the problem and disorder Emily was diagnosed with because it is more common than we think.

“Some of the symptoms are very common,” Schicatano added. “The more people that hear of it the better it’s going to be detected and diagnosed for others.”

“To be aware of how something like this can happen … it’s a learning experiencing,” he continued.

“I think the real lesson here is we don’t know as much as we think we know,” Schicatano stated. “We need to say ‘I don’t know and let’s look and let’s research it.”

“We don’t really know all that is happening in the brain,” he added, “it is not as simple as it is in the textbooks.”

“You’re going to hear something that is fascinating, eye-opening, and informative,” said Schicatano.

Psychology and Neuroscience students have already expressed an interest in hearing the rare story of Emily Gavigan’s journey to a diagnosis including junior neuroscience major Thomas Krutsick.

“I find Emily’s story very interesting and look forward to hearing about her experience with anti-NMDAR receptor encephalitis, because it is such a rare condition,” Krutsick said.

“The thing that I hope to take away from the presentation is a better understanding of someone who suffered through such debilitating symptoms and recovered,” Krutsick said.

“You have to see it to believe it,” said Schicatano.

Seats will fill up fast for Emily Gavigan’s “Madness” presentation. Email Dr. Schicatano for any further questions regarding the presentation.