More MS news articles for March 2001

Her Never-Ending Battle

03/07/2001 - Wednesday

Gina Sherman and one of her daughters shoveled snow yesterday, then cleaned snow off the car. Then, they made a snowman. "The usual stuff," Gina said with a giggle.

Not quite.

Seven years ago, Gina Giannone was 24 years old and living with Brian Sherman, whom she had met two years earlier, when they tended bar at a Shelter Island marina tavern and restaurant.

Divorced and the joint custodian of Jessica, then 7, Brian also worked full time for the town highway department, where he now is a foreman, and was a member of the volunteer fire department, over which he now presides as chief.

One day, Gina suffered a seizure. She did not know what caused it. She did not even remember much of it, but she clearly had experienced a seizure.

"A doctor put her on epilepsy medication," recalled Brian, now 35, "and she was fine for a couple of months, but then she broke out in a rash. She was allergic to the medication. They put her on other medicines, but nothing seemed to work. Six or eight months later, she had more seizures and went into ...

[Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport] with something like anxiety and panic attacks. They weren't sure what it was, either, but she walked in there, and she started having seizures, and within a week, she was totally incompetent.

"We got her transferred to Stony Brook. In the beginning, they weren't sure what they were dealing with. One doctor thought she was schizophrenic. Another diagnosed her as status epilepticus, meaning that she was in a constant state of seizure." Brian's mother, Judy, became involved. A nurse at the San Simeon by the Sound Nursing Home in Greenport, she, Brian and a panel of doctors agreed on electroshock therapy, but when that didn't produce positive results, they changed course, and doctors tried various medications for epilepsy.

"Nothing worked," said Brian. "She became catatonic. She was in constant seizure. She remembers nothing of this, by the way, and she was there for 3 1/2 months. We spoke with a lot of doctors. There was one, a pediatric neurologist, who is, like, world renowned for pediatric epilepsy. We asked her if she would be Gina's physician, and she agreed. They put her into a phenobarbital coma." "It's a known treatment for intractable seizures," said the doctor, Mary M.

Andriola, of Setauket. "It's essentially putting the brain to sleep." "There were complications," said Brian. "She had a collapsed lung. She got pneumonia. It took longer than they thought for her to come out of the coma-two weeks-and we weren't sure what was going to happen. She was on a ventilator, and she had a hard time coming off that. They had to do a tracheostomy. Every team of doctors up there was watching her. Eventually, she started to come out.

Her brain waves looked good. She had lost 40 pounds and was down to 100. When she came out of it, she didn't know much. She knew who she was; she knew who I was; she knew who my daughter was. It was quite an experience.

"She eventually developed a mother-daughter relationship with the doctor," Brian said. "I brought her home to Shelter Island and took her to St. Charles Hospital [in Port Jefferson] three times a week for physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy. She had to learn to walk, talk, everything, but she progressed very quickly." Brian and Gina married the following summer. Their daughter, Taylor, was born the next year, in July 1996.

"I love Gina like a daughter," said Andriola. "I took care of her one summer. I attended their wedding the next summer, and I attended a christening the summer after that. They're a lovely couple. Brian sat by her side every day that first summer. Every day. He and his mother were her medical surrogates and helped an awful lot by their loyalty and their clear thinking. It broke my heart to hear about the MS." Gina was diagnosed last month with multiple sclerosis. "That's what brought up all these memories of eight years ago," she said. "I was experiencing numbness and vertigo. They did two days' worth of tests on me at Stony Brook in January, and then I had to wait for the results of a spinal tap. While I was at Stony Brook, though, I met a lot of nurses and technicians and doctors who actually remembered me. They all asked how I was doing. They all asked about Brian. I said we'd gotten married. We have two children, Taylor, who is 4 1/2, and Isabella, whose first birthday is March 31. They all liked that. They said Brian is just one of the best. I said, 'I know. He's amazing.'" "The good news from the tests was that there were no signs of seizures," Gina said yesterday. "The bad news was the confirmation of MS, but I'm not taking it as bad news. I consider myself very lucky."
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