Connors: Mishandling of investigation of mystery illness in Le Roy, N.Y. calls for reevalution

Fifteen girls and one boy from different social cliques of Le Roy High School have developed “Tourette’s-like” ticks and involuntary verbal outbursts. This medical mystery still remains unsolved and I am personally disgruntled by the way the New York State Department of Health has so easily dismissed the idea of potential environmental toxins in Le Roy High School causing these widespread neurological reactions.

The New York State Department has tested the school. CNN Health states: “The medical and environmental investigations have not uncovered any evidence that would link the neurological symptoms to anything in the environment or of an infectious nature.” I, however, am not convinced.

I became even more disturbed by this story when the New York State Department of Health alongside neurologist Dr. Laszlo Mechtler of the Dent Neurologic Institute “diagnosed the girls as having a rare condition called mass psychogenic illness, more familiarly known as mass hysteria.”

Mechtler diagnosed these students with a “psychosomatic syndrome that can be caused by stress and the power of suggestion.” Basically, these girls (and boy) were having Tourette’s-like involuntary twitches because they were extremely stressed out, which is at the root of mass hysteria. My response was and still is, “Bullshit!”

Not all of the teens were satisfied with their psychogenic diagnosis and rightly so. Thera Sanchez, one of the affected students, said, “I’m frustrated. No one’s giving us answers.” No one was giving answers, until environmental activist Erin Brockovich was allowed to investigate Le Roy High School with her team on Jan. 28 in search of another explanation for this strange occurrence. Even though they have only been working for several days, Sanchez’s request for answers looks promising.

What I find to be frustrating is that school officials are, at this point, prohibiting Brokovich and her team from taking dirt samples on the school’s sports fields. If remnants of the cyanide and industrial solvent were found to be minor components in the soil make-up, the school would clearly be pressed with many major problems, the most extreme being a shutdown of the school.

It boils down to a question of ethics: Is the school willing to risk literally everything for the benefit of the students and community’s health? I hope the answer will be “Yes.”

On a positive note, other doctors have stepped in to counteract Mechtler’s psychogenic diagnosis. Dr. Jennifer McVige, a colleague of Mechtler at the DENT Institution explained that there are possible neurological explanations for these ticks such as Pediatric Acute Neuropsychiatric Syndrome (P.A.N.S., formerly known as P.A.N.D.A.S.).

Dr. Rosario Trifiletti, said that “P.A.N.S., which may be associated with a variety of infectious triggers, is a relatively common illness, and there are thousands of cases diagnosed across this country.” The only problem is that none have showed the strange clustering found in Le Roy, N.Y.

The fact that McVige is skeptical of this diagnosis is reassuring. I would rather have a doctor admit that they are unsure than to affirm something that could be doubted. In the medical field it is often hard for doctors to reach a common agreement on treatment, especially in rare cases such as this.

Hopefully these 15 children will be able to return to their normal lives soon and optimistically no more students will suffer Tourette’s-like symptoms. Maybe one day, when and if this mystery is solved, I will see Hugh Laurie dramatize it on television with his witty sarcasm.