LIVE VIDEO: Channel 2 News    Watch
 

What Really Happened To The Girls In Le Roy?

7:06 PM, Feb 21, 2013   |    comments
  • Share
  • Print
  • - A A A +
  • FILED UNDER

LeROY, NY - Le Roy is a picture postcard of a little town in Genesee County. Today, it's hard to imagine that one year ago the circus came to town.

Not a circus with animals and trapeze artists, but a media circus caused by a combustible mix of strange symptoms, TV talk shows and social media.

Everyone it seemed had an opinion, or had come to a conclusion, about what had caused the girls' illness.

Environmental activist Erin Brockovich believed it was chemicals from a 1970 train spill that was the cause. 

"I have people who grew up in the area telling me they had bone cancer at the age of ten," said Brockovich on Dr. Drew's show.

A doctor from New Jersey theorized it was PANDAS. "What PANDAS is is a post infectious, auto-immune disturbance when your immune system attacks parts of your brain," said Dr. Drew.

So did Dr. Siegel on FOX News, "It can cause tics, it can cause Tourette's syndrome, it's very common and it why 12 girls would get it in one school," he said. 

A professor at SUNY Geneso thought it could be an auto-immune disorder. "When they respond to the strep bacteria, the anti-bodies they form also cross- react and attack the cells of the basil ganglia," said Vince Markowski.

In the end, those who had gone on TV with their theories and diagnoses were wrong, every single one of them.

The girls' illness was not tied to a 1970 chemical spill.   The National Institute of Health said the girls did not have the PANDAS virus, nor did they have any other condition that was speculated about. And that speculation usually came from people who were hundreds of miles away from Le Roy and the girls.

The people who were right?

The girls' doctors.

The neurologists in Buffalo who had actually examined them and found them to be suffering from something called "conversion disorder" - that's where a psychological or subconscious issue like stress or anxiety is converted into real physical symptoms, often uncontrolled movements or verbal tics.

Then other girls seeing that, developed the same symptoms.

When the girls are viewed as a whole group, it's called "mass psychogenic illness."

Girls are more prone to developing conversion disorder than boys.

Dr. Jennifer McVige was the neurologist at the Dent Institute who treated most of the girls.

Scott Brown: "In general, how are the girls doing today?"

Dr. Jennifer McVige: "They're doing very well. They were 15 individuals and of the younger high school students almost everybody is doing completely better. Most of the girls are done, there's no medication therapy at all, I actually don't even follow with them anymore because they are all better, 100 percent." 

Scott Brown: "Medically and psychologically how were the girls treated?"

Dr. Jennifer McVige: "Treatment -- we did use some anti-depressant medications, some anxiety medications, muscle relaxant medications, physical therapy, at times some of the girls needed counseling, so we did send some of the girls to counseling."

Scott Brown: "What would you tell them as part of your treatment?"

Dr. Jennifer McVige: "Slowly we would talk about either relaxation techniques if you feel like you're going to twitch or move take a deep breath, project yourself into someplace else, visualization. We'd also work on modifying the movements, so if you feel like your shoulders are going to twitch, modify it by grabbing the side of your pant leg.

"Then I think once someone is able to take control of their body, even the slightest bit, modify a vocal tic, modify a movement, it's empowering and then once their empowered, you reinforce the positive."

Dr. Laszlo Mechtler is the head of the Dent Institute where most of the girls were treated.

It was Dr. Mechtler who said publicly that each time they were interviewed by the media, the girls' condition would get worse.

Dr. Laszlo Metchler: "They had more symptoms, they had worsening of their movement disorder, they passed out, they had seizures, it was very concerning to me. They even entered the homes of these children and videotaped them on their couch as they had more and more symptoms."

Dr. Jennifer McVige: "I think some of the girls that went on TV, they're trying to get better, they're trying to move on, but they're reliving it everyday so that it's coming back over and over again and they couldn't get away from it."

Scott Brown: "Did it become kind of like a psychological echo chamber?"

Dr. Jennifer McVige: "Yes I had many of them say 'I just want to move on but nobody else is moving on. I just want to get better, but it's just there all the time and no one is letting me get better.'"

Every new doctor, when graduating from medical school takes something called the Hippocratic Oath. Its tenets include patient confidentiality and always acting in the best interests of the patient.

And so it's important to remember that it wasn't only Erin Brockovich and her investigator who were contributing to the hysteria surrounding the girls' illness, but doctors as well.

Scott Brown: "What do you think of Dr. Drew, or Triffiletti, who had the PANDAs diagnosis, what do you think of those guys who are MDs?"

Dr. Laszlo Mechtler: "The physician has to step in and say I'm not going to exploit this young lady for the need of ratings, that's unacceptable."

Scott Brown: "Would you say they were acting unethically?"

Dr. Laszlo Mechtler: "I would say that their primary focus was not the benefit of these young ladies, but the story itself."

After a time last year, the media circus packed up and left Le Roy.

Dr Drew moved on to other stories.

Erin Brockovich, though she promised to come to town, never did.

Dr. Triffiletti, who was putting out press releases about the girls last year, didn't return our calls for comment for this story.

Scott Brown: "Honestly do you think the Erin Brockovichs and Dr Drews owe the community an apology?"

Dr. Laszlo Mechtler: "Interesting- those two individuals never showed up in New York, they never came here, they had a lot of media exposure for those seven months, but they sent other people here. I don't think they need to have an apology toward me or to Western New York, maybe to the girls."

Dr. Jennifer McVige: "I agree that you've got to look into every diagnosis and make sure you're not missing anything, I agree with that, but there comes a point where you need to say 'stop, we know what's going on and let's do the right thing by this people.' And the problem is if you don't do that, they get sicker."

Most Watched Videos