Wilkes University


“Madness” Lecture by Laflin Native Emily Gavigan Highlights Rare Autoimmune Disorder on Feb. 1 at Wilkes University

Laflin native Emily Gavigan’s frightening descent into what seemed to be insanity will be the focus when she delivers the lecture “Madness” on Thursday, Feb. 1 at Wilkes University. She will speak at 6 p.m. in Room 320 of Breiseth Hall. The free event is sponsored by the Wilkes University Psychology Department and the neuroscience program.

Gavigan was eventually diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder called anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis in which the body’s immune system attacks the brain. She has been interviewed about her harrowing experience on NBC’s Todayshow, ABC’s Good Morning, America, Dr. Oz and other media outlets. The symptoms began in 2010 during Gavigan’s junior year at the University of Scranton. The condition begins to manifest itself with paranoia and manic behavior – symptoms often associated with mental health disorders.

Over the course of a year, her condition deteriorated. Subsequent symptoms included loss of the use of her arms and inability to walk. She eventually developed a blood clot on her brain and suffered a grand mal seizure. By that time, her diagnosis had changed from a mental health condition to multiple sclerosis.

In 2010, New York Postreporter Susannah Cahalan wrote about her experience with the same autoimmune disorder in a best-selling memoir, Brain On Fire: My Month of Madness. She appeared on the Today show to promote the book and talk about her experience. A member of Gavigan’s family saw the interview and recognized the similarity between Cahalan’s experience and the symptoms that Gavigan was exhibiting. Although Gavigan’s physicians initially rejected the suggestion that she had anti-NMDA receptor autoimmune encephalitis, her parents persisted in lobbying for the correct diagnosis. She was finally flown to the University of Pennsylvania, where she was treated by Dr. Josep Dalmau, who had discovered the disorder in 2007.

Gavigan went on to graduate from the University of Scranton in December 2012 with a double major in English literature and business management. She holds a master’s degree in publishing from Rosemont College and works as a technical writer at Sanofi Pasteur. She also is a registered yoga teacher. She continues her commitment to spread awareness for autoimmune encephalitis so that no one else has to go undiagnosed.