The most affirming moment of my entire life ‚?? and to be able to say this with absolute certainty is just another example of how this disease has changed my perspective in positive ways ‚?? was when a man named Bill Gavigan called me in spring 2010.
‚??Is this Susannah Cahalan?‚?Ě he asked breathlessly.
‚??Yes,‚?Ě I stated, taken aback. People usually did not say my name as if it carried such weight. He went on to tell me the story of his teenage daughter, Emily.
That‚??s an excerpt from the book Brain on Fire, My Month of Madness, by New York Post reporter Susannah Cahalan.
The Bill Gavigan mentioned is our Bill Gavigan, Bill Gavigan of Laflin.
The Emily is his daughter, now 23.
The disease is NMDA Receptor Antibody Disease.
Emily contracted it in 2009 while a sophomore at the University of Scranton and to hear her father talk about it, it is one of the most horrible things that can happen to a person. And one of the most difficult to diagnose.
So difficult, in fact, that had Cahalan not written about her own experiences with it, which resulted in an appearance on the TODAY show on NBC, Emily Gavigan may not be alive today.
The night before Emily was flown ‚?? in a comatose state after degenerating to a point where she, a former dean‚??s list student, was unable to walk or talk ‚?? by helicopter to University of Pennsylvania Hospital, Bill Gavigan told her doctor at Geisinger Wyoming Valley that if they waited 24 hours to take her by ambulance his daughter would not be alive.
Because of Cahalan‚??s story, Gavigan insisted his daughter be tested for the disease. This came after more than a year of one misdiagnosis after another as he and his wife helplessly watched their daughter disappearing, both physically and mostly mentally, before their eyes.
At U of P, Emily was properly diagnosed and began, through chemotherapy, the long road back to herself, but not before she had been there for 25 days during which she lost 30 pounds. In all, Emily would spend 53 days at U of P. Her mom, Grace, was with her every day.
It was after the diagnosis ‚?? the first relief the Gavigans had during their daughter‚??s ordeal ‚?? that Bill Gavigan tracked down Susannah Cahalan to say thank you. It was Bill‚??s sister Mary, who lives in Wayne, who first saw Cahalan on the TODAY show and told Bill about her.
Since Bill‚??s first phone call, ‚??Susannah‚??s become like a second daughter to me,‚?Ě he said of the 26-year-old writer.
She recently visited the Gavigans at their home along with Kerri Zimmer, a producer for TODAY, to prepare for a segment which will air Monday morning at 8 a.m. Bill and Emily Gavigan and Susannah Cahalan will be on the show live.
Emily is still undergoing treatment, but she has managed to return to college and earn dual degrees in English and Business Management.
And she finished in a normal eight semesters.
‚??She was very determined,‚?Ě Bill said.
Emily has also returned to the ice. She is an accomplished figure skater and teaches figure skating.
‚??On Mother‚??s Day of 2010,‚?Ě Bill Gavigan says, ‚??I pushed my daughter in a wheelchair into a store to buy a card for her mother. A year later, she was skating.‚?Ě
During the TODAY interview at the Gavigan home, when asked by Zimmer if she feels she‚??s been given a second chance at life, Emily Gavigan said, ‚??No, actually a third chance,‚?Ě Bill Gavigan related.
‚??She said she was dead twice and was able to come back,‚?Ě he explained.