Press-Republican

September 11, 2013

Supervisor overcomes rare disorder

LOHR McKINSTRY
Press-Republican

ELIZABETHTOWN — Monday marked the return of Westport Supervisor Daniel Connell after he was stricken with a rare virus that attacks memory T-cells in the brain.

He was greeted with a round of applause as he took his seat at the Essex County Board of Supervisors meeting in Elizabethtown’s Old County Courthouse.

He recounted how his memory began failing until he reached the point he could not think coherently.

“I’d like to thank you all for your cards, phone calls, prayers and concerns,” he told his fellow lawmakers. “I can’t tell you how much this has meant to me.”

He said doctors told him fewer than 20 people worldwide have ever been diagnosed with the auto-immune disorder he had.

“I contracted a virus that caused my auto-immune system to interact with itself. I have had extensive medical treatment for this condition.”

LOST MEMORY

Connell said his memory losses got worse and worse, until his wife, Lucy, bundled him into the car and made a late-night drive to the emergency room at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington.

“He woke me up,” she said after the meeting. “He said he couldn’t remember anything. Something was wrong.”

At Fletcher Allen, Mr. Connell was placed under the care of neurologist Dr. Waqar Waheed, who began running tests over a period of several days. He sent blood samples to the Mayo Clinic for analysis, then discharged Mr. Connell to await the results.

“When the bloodwork came back, Dr. Waheed called and said, ‘Pack your bags,’” Mrs. Connell said. “I could see there was something radically wrong.”

TREATED IN BURLINGTON

Back at Fletcher Allen, Mr. Connell was admitted and treated with the anti-inflammatory drug Prednisone and given intravenous immunoglobulin.

The town supervisor, 68, said he soon started to feel better.

“My memory cells were blocked for four weeks. I remember the last two days in the hospital; I don’t remember the other eight. My physician told me I can expect a full recovery.”

One of the things he can’t remember is winning the Board of Supervisors milking contest at the Essex County Fair in mid August.

“I have no memory of the fair,” he said.

He milked very, very fast, said Supervisor Sue Montgomery Corey (D-Minerva).

“Those of us who do remember what happened (at the contest) know you were a force of nature,” she joked.

BACK AT WORK

The rare antibody that attacked Mr. Connell causes severe memory loss, among other effects, his wife said.

“It sets up a wall and blocks memory in the temporal lobe of the brain. It’s very odd and very rare. Dr. Waheed said he’s seen only one other case.

“It’s only been in the last two years they’ve been able to pick this out.”

Mr. Connell said he’s gone public with his story because he wants people to know he’s back at work and recovering fully. Westport Deputy Supervisor Ike Tyler filled in for Connell while he was incapacitated.

The virus has previously been found in Europe, South America and Japan, so it’s a mystery how Mr. Connell could have contracted it in Westport.

TRAVELED OVERSEAS

But in the spring, the Connells vacationed in Spain and Tangiers, seeing the sights and eating the local cuisine.

“I think that’s where Dan got it,” Mrs. Connell said. “We were over there in April and May, and in June, something was affecting Dan’s memory.”

Mrs. Connell, a home-health aide, said Mr. Connell’s blood pressure was a dangerously high — 178 over 115 — the night he went to Fletcher Allen in late July.

“Dan’s come a long way. He’s recuperating. If we hadn’t gone to Fletcher Allen, I don’t think he’d be here.”

Email Lohr McKinstry: lmckinstry@pressrepublican.com