Madison MacCormick went from a healthy, go-get-em, straight-A student athlete to a high-school freshman experiencing seizures daily and plummeting grades. Some days, she’d have up to five seizures and in between each one she would wake up screaming in horrific pain.
Years of dealing with debilitating, 24-hour pain in her foot that physicians eventually diagnosed as reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) took an emotional toll on Madison. One of the side effects of RSD is anxiety. When she and her family thought they’d beaten the pain, one day in math class, Madison experienced her first seizure. “I fell back in my seat and then I didn’t remember anything when I woke up,” she remembers.
Madison saw physicians, specialists, psychologists and therapists who finally told her “to deal with it.” She was on a first-name basis with local EMTs who routinely transported her from school to the Emergency Department at Mission Hospital.
The only one who could get through to her was one of the family dogs and the MacCormicks got her PTSD service dog named Dylan, who warns her of an impending seizure and helps her come out of one. But the seizures got to the point where Madison could only attend school part of the year.
“I had a chronic headache at the side of my head, 24/7 and they had no idea why,” Madison says. “I was so irritated by everyone around me at all times and my mom and I would get in really bad fights. I’d wear headphones because the sounds of their voices would make me want to scream.”
Beacon of Hope
After two years of varying diagnoses, CHOC referred the MacCormicks to Jerry Weichman, Ph.D., at the Teen Brain program. When they heard about the program and the results they could expect, Madison’s father, Kevin, admitted that it sounded too good to be true.
“We were at our wits end at that point and we had to do something,” Kevin says.
The Teen Brain program serves patients through a team of dedicated and skilled physicians and mental health experts. Madison underwent comprehensive psychological, neurological, and psychiatric evaluations with Teen Brain specialists. She also had a neuropsychological examination administered.
“Once her evaluations were completed, all four doctors on the case came together for a group consultation,” says Dr. Weichman. “Everyone had independently identified what was more than likely the cause of her seizures and the data collected on the neuropsychological examination confirmed our collective suspicions: Madison suffered from extreme anxiety due to an ‘I have to’ problem and when she didn't do well academically, her stress and anxiety would skyrocket and then she would repress and compartmentalize it.”
He describes the cause of her seizures like a fuse popping on an overloaded electrical circuit. “They were pseudo seizures as her mind and body reacted from high stress rather than result from epilepsy or other neurological conditions,” he says.
Turning Toward Wellbeing
Upon the start of her treatment, Madison had four seizures the first week and two seizures the second week. By end of the first month, her prescriptions kicked in and she was using the tools she learned in therapy to combat her stress and anxiety. She did not have seizure that week.
From March 31, 2016 to today, Madison has been seizure-free despite her full load of college classes and a part-time job at the fast-paced bakery and take-away counter at Cheesecake Factory.
For Madison, she was relieved to finally talk with someone who believed her and gave her real tools to calm her anxiety. “I like talking to Dr. Weichman because he was the first one who treated me like a human being,” she says. “He’s taught me it’s ‘here and now’ and gave me techniques to stay in the moment and not freak out about my future that hasn’t happened yet. He made me more aware of myself because before I’d be so unaware of what my body was doing before I’d have a seizure.”
Today, Madison is enrolled in an accelerated undergraduate nursing program with the goal to get her Bachelor of Science in Nursing and specialize in pediatric oncology. She and her service dog, Dylan, are preparing for a new chapter out of state.
Madison’s success story is a testament to the Teen Brain program, which is currently the only one in existence in the country, promising a brighter future for adolescents suffering from mental or behavioral health issues.