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Newmarket Ontario Teen Overcomes Tourette

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  • Newmarket Ontario Teen Overcomes Tourette

    SickKids: Teen overcomes the tics of Tourette’s
    Toronto Star
    May 7, 2013

    Brenden Gamna, 15, with his Sea Cadet uniform at his Newmarket home. Brenden was an early patient of Dr. Daniel Gorman, who joined SickKids in 2005, around the time the Tourette clinic was started. Brenden's condition is manageable and is functioning well with minimal disruptions to his life.

    It was during a vacation in Ottawa while the Gamna family was touring the House of Commons.

    Brenden, then 9 or 10, remembers clearing his throat loudly and making “weird facial expressions” as he listened to the tour guide. The rest of the group stared and whispered, his mother Michelle recalls.

    “Other people thought he was misbehaving,” adds his father, Ryan. “They had no idea what was going on.”

    The tour guide quietly asked the family to leave.

    That incident several years ago led Brenden, who had been diagnosed with Tourette syndrome at age 8, to choose medication to manage his involuntary symptoms, a decision his doctor and parents left up to him.

    Today, the 15-year-old boy is an athletic, academically gifted Grade 10 student with a positive outlook on life and no urge to spew swear words — a common misconception about Tourette syndrome is that those who suffer from it feel compelled to curse.

    The neuropsychiatric condition is rife with misunderstandings, says Dr. Daniel Gorman, Brenden’s psychiatrist at the SickKids clinic that deals with the disorder.

    The Tourette specialist offers a few facts to set the record straight:
    • The condition is common; it affects about one in 100 children, and more boys than girls.
    • It typically has its onset at age 5 or 6, and peaks in severity at about age 10 or 11, with the tics tending to decrease in adolescence and possibly disappear by early adulthood.
    • Patients have a variety of tics: movements or sounds that occur repeatedly, and these usually change over the years. Although many patients don’t require treatment beyond education and reassurance, those whose tics cause significant discomfort or distress may receive behaviour therapy or medication.
    • The syndrome is usually associated with other mental-health conditions, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
    • Bizarre behaviour is not part of Tourette’s and foul-mouthed outbursts are uncommon.
    • The condition is largely hereditary, but the genetic causes haven’t been established.

    In Brenden’s case, the type and frequency of tics have varied over time to include sniffing, throat-clearing, blinking, painful stomach-clenching, foot-twisting, head movements and wheezing.

    “Tics have a bit of a life on their own,” explains Gorman. “There isn’t necessarily a trigger, but they can be exacerbated by stress, anxiety, fatigue or excitement.”

    Brenden, who was diagnosed with ADHD at an early age, also has mild OCD symptoms and a gifted-learning disability profile. He has responded well to the medication he takes for Tourette’s and ADHD, says Gorman.

    The lack of public awareness has been frustrating at times for the Gamna family, who live in Newmarket.

    “I had someone, a nurse, say to me, ‘It must be difficult having a son in a wheelchair,’ ” Michelle recalls in disbelief.

    Another time, Brenden’s baseball coach yelled at him to pay attention, as he hid behind his glove because of facial tics.

    “Kids always think it involves a lot of swearing, and I tell them it’s not about swearing at all,” Brenden says.

    Younger sister Caitlin, 13, remembers other kids “bothering him” over his tics when she was in kindergarten. “I honestly don’t think I knew what was going on, but I had to stick up for him.”

    Trying to stop the tics doesn’t work, explains Brenden, who held a seminar for classmates and teachers in his elementary school. “You have the urge to do it more and more if you try and suppress it.”

    The teenager loves to run for relaxation. “I’m stress free. It takes my mind off it.”

    With ADHD symptoms under control and tics now mild, Brenden continues to improve, says Gorman, who sees him every three months.

    “Untreated, his Tourette syndrome, and the things that go along with it, would have been very disruptive and set him on a difficult trajectory — academically, at home and with his peers. Without treatment, he probably would have had a really tough go of things.”

    Brenden’s parents are thrilled with the support they’ve received from the “phenomenal” Gorman and the clinic at SickKids.

    “I knew that would be the place to be and they’d be the ones to guide us as a family and help us get through it,” says Michelle, adding they’ve always encouraged Brenden to be himself.

    He’s says he’s even “kind of happy” that he has Tourette’s. “It makes me not the same as everyone else.”

    And if he can help people understand more about it, “it makes me feel happier that I’m helping others.”
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