Emily Gavigan began displaying strange behavior while she was a sophomore at the University of Scranton in 2009. She started to become paranoid, often rambling and becoming convinced that something terrible was about to happen to her family.
Her parents became concerned, but didn’t know what to do about it. The Gavigans couldn’t avoid the situation any longer when Emily vanished one afternoon.
She was out of contact with her family for over 24 hours. Eventually, they got a call from Emily’s grandparents in New Jersey, telling her parents that Emily had shown up at their house.
Emily drove from Pennsylvania to New Jersey with no money, skipping all the tolls as she went. When she got there, she told her grandfather that there was a truck following her the whole way.
Her grandfather looked out the window and didn’t see anything. When her parents got there, they realized it was time to get Emily some treatment.
Like her parents, the doctors assumed Emily’s problems were mental. They ran tests on Emily and gave her medication, but nothing seemed to work.
Some of the treatment even made Emily worse. Doctors began to think the problems were physical — like a brain tumor — though they couldn’t find anything on that front either.
The Gavigans tried everything. They brought their daughter to psychiatrists and mental facilities, but they didn’t solve the problem in any way; Emily was only getting worse.
One day, after being alerted to an episode of the Today Show by a concerned family member, Emily’s parents were shocked. They heard something that made their ears prop up.
They heard to story of Susannah Cahalan, a New York Post reporter who wrote an article about how she spent a month thinking she was crazy. The story sounded chillingly familiar to the Gavigans, who prompted their doctors to run tests on Emily.
Cahalan suffered from anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. This is a disease where the immune system is attacking parts of the brain, causing neurological damage.
Emily’s doctors didn’t want to hear the speculation from her family. They just thought the family was in denial over their daughter’s mental condition.
Eventually, they tested Emily for the disease, and it came back positive. Finally, after all this time, Emily was given the correct diagnosis.
It was still a long road to recovery, but Emily stepped out of the darkness after about a year. She was able to return to the life she had before the disease took her mind.
In 2012, after Emily’s recovery, she joined Cahalan on the Today Show to share her story of how the segment saved her life. Little did she know that she was paying it forward for another case.
Thousands of miles away in Omaha, Nebraska, the Jensen family was watching as the Gavigan family had. Their daughter, Madison, was experiencing many of the same symptoms that Emily and Cahalan had experienced.
Madison’s mother had no idea what was wrong with her daughter until she saw the clip. After that, she was sure she had found the diagnosis that would save her 6-year-old.
Madison is now 10, and is living life to the fullest thanks to Cahalan and Emily sharing their stories. Her mother hopes that one day they’ll be able to share Madison’s tale and help someone else discover a correct diagnosis.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.