TODAY | January 17, 2012
ANN CURRY, co-host: Back now at 7:43 with a baffling mystery in upstate New York . A strange illness has made at least a dozen teenage girls sick at the same high school . NBC 's national correspondent Amy Robach has the story. Amy , good morning.
AMY ROBACH reporting: Ann , good morning to you. For months, doctors in Le Roy , New York , have been trying to figure out what caused 12 girls to have severe tics almost like Tourette syndrome . Now the state health department is weighing in.
Ms. THERA SANCHEZ: It was just supposed to be white right there.
ROBACH: Seventeen-year-old Thera Sanchez says she isn't the same teenager she was a few months ago. She suffers from uncontrollable body movements, tics and verbal outbursts, much like Tourette syndrome . Things Thera once loved like going out with friends or cheerleading our now, she says, nearly impossible.
Ms. SANCHEZ: Well, I used to cheer every day. I would go to art class, I used to, I used to go to art classes everyday. Now I'm not in school.
ROBACH: This is home video of Thera from October when she says the symptoms first appeared, barely able to speak.
Offscreen Voice: What's he doing?
Ms. SANCHEZ: I was always so -- I was always so active and everybody was always happy to be around me. But I'm -- I don't feel like myself anymore.
ROBACH: And Thera is not alone. At least 12 teenage girls at Le Roy High School at upstate New York say they're suffering from the same symptoms , including Thera 's friend Katie Krautwurst .
Ms. KATIE KRAUTWURST: My days are all different. Some days I'll just start twitching and it won't stop for 10, 15, 20 minutes.
ROBACH: Both girls have seen their own doctors and are getting treatment, but they say symptoms continue. The New York State Health Department has been looking into the case for more than three months and says the school building is not to blame.
Dr. GREGORY YOUNG (New York State Department of Health): We have conclusively ruled out any form of infection or communicable disease . And there's no evidence of any environmental factor .
ROBACH: The state health department says each student was examined by a private doctor and given a diagnosis. Still, Thera 's mom wants more answers.
Ms. MELISA PHILLIPS: It's come to the point, you know, where that's not enough. We need to know what's going on.
ROBACH: And it's important to reiterate the state health department says it's confident students there are not at risk because of anything in or at Le Roy
High School. Ann: All right. Amy Robach , thank you so much . Seventeen-year-old Thera Sanchez and 16-year-old Katie Krautwurst are now joining us along with their mothers, Melisa Phillips and Beth Miller . Good morning to both of you, and all of you, and also Dr. Gail Saltz , who is a TODAY contributor and psychiatrist. Thank you so much for being here.
CURRY: Good morning.
Ms. SANCHEZ: First, Thera , we just heard about this affecting you. Are you angry?
CURRY: Very, very angry. I'm very angry. I'm very frustrated, no one's giving answers.
Ms. SANCHEZ: Katie , what are your emotions?
CURRY: I'm angry, too.
Ms. KRAUTWURST: And so when you hear the state say, health department say that there is no environmental factors , that there's no infectious disease , as a mom, Melisa , what are you thinking?
CURRY: Where is the -- where is the proof? Where is the data, where's the testing? When has this been done, you know?
Ms. PHILLIPS: You've not been shown any data?
CURRY: No, no, nothing.
Ms. PHILLIPS: Beth , do you think that you have a right to this data?
CURRY: Yes. And I have put in a request for it. I'm trying to get all the information together so I can proceed in finding a cure for our daughters.
Ms. BETH MILLER: Why do you disbelieve what the state is telling you that this has to be something else, this is -- cannot be something that is environmental or something that's to do with the school, Melisa ?
CURRY: There's -- nothing's been collectively done for our daughters. Everything's been done individually. Testing, they say that all the girls have had they have not had.
Ms. PHILLIPS: Excuse me.
Ms. SANCHEZ: The facts that they're stating just aren't true.
Ms. PHILLIPS: So what are the doctors telling you, Thera , about what is happening to you.
CURRY: Mostly that it's stress-induced. When these started I was fine, I was perfectly fine. I felt good about everything. I was on honor roll. There was nothing going wrong. And then I just woke up and that's when -- that's when the stuttering started.
Ms. SANCHEZ: And you've been admitted to art school . You're not in school right now. You're -- you know, you want to go on to college. I mean this is incredibly frustrating for you. Katie , how do you explain how 12 girls in your small town, all at the same high school , would have similar symptoms ?
CURRY: I can't explain it. They told us it was traumatic, but I really don't think any of us had that traumatic of a life before and that it would randomly happy -- happen. It's just confusing.
Ms. KRAUTWURST: You just -- you're just shaking a little bit, but you -- so you have a little bit here and there but it's not as pronounced as Thera 's.
Ms. KRAUTWURST: But you see a similarity, though, in your symptoms ?
CURRY: Yeah, mine's more advanced, I think, because I've had it longer but mine's definitely gotten better.
Ms. KRAUTWURST: It's gotten better for you. Has it gotten better for you, Thera ?
CURRY: No, it gets worse.
Ms. SANCHEZ: All right. Well, Dr. Saltz , what is this? Do you know?
CURRY: Well, having just met them I could not make a diagnosis. When you have a movement disorder, these different kinds of things, you rule out environmental things, infectious things, etc., when you've ruled everything out and they are saying to you it's stress-related then you might call it something called conversion disorder or psychosomatic illness, which means that symptoms have been converted from something psychological into something physical and it usually is predated by a stress. But it's important for me to say that's not fake. That's not faking it. They're real symptoms that are not under their control that they're really experiencing, they're psychologically driven and they need a psychiatric or psychological treatment. They need real treatment and treatment does work.
Dr. GAYLE SALTZ: But the -- but the fact that's it happened to 12 girls really does say something that has to be done.
CURRY: You can have...
Dr. SALTZ: What do you want to come out of being on the TODAY show this morning?
CURRY: I want an answer, a straight answer. I've had psychological
Ms. SANCHEZ: treatment. They say this is stress induced? Why......to my psychological treatment. That's all they do is stress me out more and I get worse.
All right. Well, obviously we hope that some doctor watching this now can help you and these other girls .
CURRY: That's it.
Ms. SANCHEZ: And so that's the message of this morning. Thank you so much for being with us.
CURRY: Thank you.
Ms. PHILLIPS: And our best to you, all of you girls and you mothers for fighting for your children.
CURRY: Thank you.
Ms. PHILLIPS: Thank you.
Ms. MILLER: Thank you.
Ms. SANCHEZ: Thank you so much , Doctor.