Turning the Tide on Tourette’s
Tourette’s Disorder (TD), also known as Tourette Syndrome, is a childhood onset neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by persistent vocal and motor tics. Other neuropsychiatric disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) also commonly occur. For Gardiner, the first symptoms began at the age of five, and he was treated with many medications during childhood and adolescence with limited success. In college his tics diminished significantly; however, while pursuing a Masters Degree in Fine Arts in the context of more life stressors, Gardiner developed a significant increase in tics that became extremely disruptive and made daily life very difficult.
Gardiner’s symptoms included multiple motor tics such as head and neck thrusts, vocal tics such as severe coughing/snorting/blowing sounds, and severe truncal motor tics that resulted in a rib fracture.
Gardiner says that these tics were, “extremely embarrassing and impairing, and made it difficult for me to function in daily life. People were quite cool to me and backed away on the subway, which made me very reluctant to use public transportation. My Tourette’s made it very difficult for me to function on stage, and cost me an acting job or two. It was even difficult for me in my relationship with my wife. I needed to be done with the Tourette’s.”
Gardiner had undergone numerous medication trials in the past, but had either failed to receive benefit or was unable to tolerate all of them. With his symptoms exacerbating and quality of life impaired, Gardiner met with the chief of the Tics and Tourette’s Clinical and Research Program, Barbara Coffey, MD, MS. Given the severity of his tics and the interference with his daily life, Gardiner sought new and alternative treatments with Dr. Coffey, and enrolled in an eight-week open label trial of a novel medication for Tourette’s.
After just one week of medication, Gardiner began to experience some improvement: The frequency and intensity of his coughing/snorting reduced, he felt calmer, and he experienced no significant side effects. By week four, Gardiner’s tics were significantly improving, and he took the subway for the first time in a long time. He states that he, “felt a lifting of pressure. I was less weighed down and more excited about life in general.” Gardiner also successfully landed a role in a theater production soon after. After seven weeks, his tics reduced substantially, and Gardiner exclaimed that, “people who hadn’t seen me in a while commented spontaneously about the reduction in my tics.”
After completing the study and experiencing significant improvement, Gardiner decided to remain on the medication in an extension of the trial, and is currently continuing to do well. He, like most people, experiences “ups and downs,” but overall his symptoms have attenuated and quality of life improved. And he has had an exciting and successful series of theater performances and is currently preparing for a solo show.
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Actor Gardiner Comfort's new series of performances, "The Elephant in Every Room I Enter," takes an on-stage look at Tourette's Disorder.