MONMOUTH — Last spring, Megan Ferland wrote “America: the Way Life Should Be?” as a scholar in the Michael D. Wilson Research Program at the University of Maine in Farmington.

In May, she graduated from UMF with a bachelor’s degree in sociology/anthropology.

On June 11, she ushered at her cousin’s wedding.

Two weeks later, the vivacious, dark-haired, self-confident 23-year-old woman lost her short-term memory and started exhibiting increasing symptoms of psychosis.

After a week in a psychiatric ward she began suffering epileptic seizures and was flown by helicopter to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Five hours later, Dr. Henrikas Vaitkevicius, a fellow in neurological critical care at Massachusetts General and Brigham & Women’s hospitals, diagnosed her with a rare immune disorder, scheduled surgery and started chemotherapy.

The Ferlands said Vaitkevicius went out on a limb to treat her based on her symptoms rather than wait for the results of test.

“We know the earlier we treat, the better it is,” Vaitkevicius said last week. “Usually in those stages we wait until antibodies come back before starting treatment aggressively.”

Ferland remembers nothing from late June through August.

However, her dad, Paul Ferland, a Winthrop police officer, recalls each excruciating detail of the ordeal.

He and his wife, Sherry, a registered nurse who works in Lewiston, spent every minute with their elder daughter, advocating for her because she couldn’t speak for herself.

Now Megan Ferland is recuperating at home, taking speech, occupational and physical therapy and working hard on regaining her short-term memory skills.

She helped decorate the house for the holidays. There’s a sparkling Christmas tree in the living room, stockings hanging on the wall and candles abound.

“I’m looking forward to being able to drive,” she said. She has to wait six months after her last epileptic seizure, which will be February.

“I was in college, working, driving all over, going out with friends. Now I’m housebound,” Ferland said, adding “Friends and family have really been good, coming to visit and taking me places.”

She frames her words carefully, smiling at her father as she talks.

One big family

The community has helped as well.

The Winthrop Rotary sponsored a benefit supper and raffle in September.

The Fayette Country Store sold bracelets with Megan’s name on them.

The Maine State Troopers Association sent a check as did the Kennebec County Deputies Association, the Boston Police Department Detectives Union and Landry’s Superette

The North Monmouth Community Church has helped out.

The staff at Fielder’s Choice ice cream store in Sabattus donated their tips for two weeks.

Subway in Farmington — where Megan Ferland worked while she was in college — donated as well.

Sherry Ferland’s coworkers held a huge fundraiser at Gritty McDuff’s in Auburn, which donated $1 for every beer sold.

And Facebook friends — the hundreds who followed her daily progress through her dad’s updates — sport Megan “Fearless” Ferland T-shirts.

“We’re just so grateful to the community for their prayers and the financial support that they showed to us during this,” Paul Ferland said. “There are so many other people and businesses that donated. We are just so blessed by all of them.”

He said that includes “the guys and girls that I worked with who ponied up and covered all my shifts so I could be down there with her.” He’d reciprocate “in a heartbeat.” Ferland used up all his vacation and sick time to be in Boston from July 6 to Aug. 26. Sherry Ferland took time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Now the family is helping Megan Ferland deal with thousand of dollars in medical bills.

Some of Megan Ferland’s treatment was covered by her father’s insurance, but there are still many outstanding bills because the Boston treatment was out of network.

So far she’s been denied MaineCare, but she intends to try again.

Her college loans are coming due, too.

‘A very rare condition’

Formally, Megan Ferland suffered from NMDA-receptor antibody encephalitis. In her case, the condition was triggered by a cyst on her ovary. She began to recover almost immediately once the ovary was removed, and she was transferred from the hospital intensive care unit and a rehabilitation facility.

And the seizures finally ceased.

But she wasn’t back home long before she had to undergo emergency surgery to remove her gall bladder.

“I just keep telling people I have to take organ donor off my license because I don’t have any left,” she said.

Megan Ferland has been back to the hospital as part of a symposium conducted by Vaitkevicius.

“I think we all realize this is a very rare condition,” Vaitkevicius said. “This is not something we should jump to as a first diagnosis to think of.” He added that because Massachusetts General is a tertiary center — a hospital that offers a full complement of services — “we’re spoiled. We have a lot more data than anybody else out in the community.”

He said Megan Ferland was the fifth person he has seen with the disease and that included one pediatric patient he did not treat.

Vaitkevicius credited Dr. Joseph Dalmau, formerly of the University of Pennsylvania, with doing the research about the disorder, described as “one of the paraneoplastic neurologic disorders” that are “caused by cancer-induced immunologic mechanisms.”

Vaitkevicius also attributed Megan Ferland’s recovery to the extraordinary family support she received.

“Whenever someone spends 30 to 40 days in ICU, what makes it possible is the family is around and supportive,” he said. “I want to make sure that somebody recognizes the mom and dad. They spend a long time in the waiting rooms. We sometimes get lucky and diagnose disorders we can treat. The family, they lived here for the time Megan was here and that made a big difference in the outcome.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

 

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