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Mystery Illness Leaves Upstate N.Y. Teens With Twitches, Spasms And No Answers

Doctors Unsure Why The Lives Of Young People Have Changed For The Worse
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Thera Sanchez recounts her experiences with the illness (credit: CBS 2)

Thera Sanchez recounts her experiences with the illness (credit: CBS 2)

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LE ROY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — More than a dozen teens at a high school in upstate New York are suffering from a mystery illness that is leaving them susceptible to twitches and spasms.

Thera Sanchez started showing symptoms when she woke up from a nap.

“It’s very heartbreaking to me to be honest, knowing that right now I can’t do what I love,” she said.

Chelsey Dumars was stricken suddenly while in school.

“I couldn’t stop stuttering,” she said. “And then throughout the day, I got worse, and I started twitching and everything.”

The debilitating condition has completely changed the lives of many young people in the Genesee County town, reports CBS 2′s Maurice Dubois. Once vital, active teens have been left exhausted and in pain.

“I hate when it happens because my body is sore. Sometimes it gets me to the point where I want to cry from twitching so much,” Dumars said.

What’s worse for these teens is some of their diagnoses haven’t been clear.

“Last time I went to the neurologist, they said they’re not sure and they’ll keep looking into it, but besides that they haven’t told anyone anything,” Lydia Parker said.

Twelve of the cases have been confirmed as conversion disorder. Three new cases are suspected.

“Traditionally it’s some kind of stress or multiple stressors that provoke a physical reaction within the body. This is unconscious. It is not done purposefully,” Dr. Jennifer McVige said.

However, those who are suffering with the condition said it goes well beyond that.

“I don’t think this is in my head. I don’t think I can wake up from a nap and this can happen,” Sanchez said.

And their parents fear they may be running out of time.

“She does not have time for ‘I feel’ or guesswork or anything like that. She’s deteriorating,” said Melisa Phillips, Sanchez’ mother.

Health officials have ruled out several possible causes, including drugs, head trauma and environmental factors, but activist Erin Brockovich thinks the state was too quick to rule out environmental problems.

Some questions surround natural gas wells near the Le Roy Jr./Sr. High School, and possible toxic remnants from a 1970 train derailment.

“Whether it’s environmental or whatever’s going on, we have to find the answer,” said Dave Watson, Dumars’ father.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke is also researching the disorder.

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