An Odder Science

Posted 04.17.15

I pulled up in the rear Dr. Randy Wymore’s pickup up~ as he pulled up in obverse of Sidney Presley’s house.

“Sorry I don’t look like a journalist,” I apologized, explaining I’d smeared bike fatty on the button-up I’d laid in a puzzle for the evening.

“Oh, that’s okay,” Wymore moiety-laughed. “Do you think I gaze like a scientist?” In weak-fit denim jeans, a sleeve-rolled align shirt, and pierced ears, the rough-headed doctor wasn’t advertising his possession. “I’ve been growing my hair uncovered for a while,” he related as we walked up the cobbled track . “I’m going as Woody Harrelson’s personage from The Hunger Games this weekend.”

Tall, twisting, transcendental trees lined both sides of the walkway, their foliage the color of the ripe jack-o-lanterns dotting the neighbors. The front door of the indecent, two-story home opened just up the trail from us.

“Come without ceasing in, Randy,” said the woman at the entrance. “Sid will be so well contented to see you!”

Cheri Ward, Sidney Presley’s stepdaughter, greeted us hinder hugging Dr. Wymore and led us into the dining extent where the 78-year-old Presley was expectation.

“Oh Randy, I haven’t seen you seeing that Tom’s funeral,” Presley reported, before embracing him with the fervency of an old friend. We sat from a high to a low position at her table, as the occident cast a soft, natural glow from one side the windows of her kitchen. Ceramic strawberries lined each corner of the dining room, and Presley wore a pink sweatshirt and glasses that matched her choice decoration. Her meet ~ to ~ was only slightly wrinkled, and I caught myself larceny glances at what I thought power be her scars.

“It hit me on May 13, 1985,” Sidney uttered, “but the lesions didn’t alarm right away and were only steady my face.”

Sidney spoke of the indistinct, white fibers she, and her stepdaughter, pulled fully of her facial lesions. She spoke of life events missed for the cause that she couldn’t stand the degrade her appearance brought her. She’d left doctors’ offices, else of them than she could remember, in tears.

“There was without more one doctor that didn’t maltreat me,” she said, “and that was honest because I was bringing him Randy’s papers to versed in books.”

Dr. Randy Wymore was grant not just at Sidney’s urging, but because he is an sort professor of pharmacology at the OSU Center beneficial to Health Sciences in Tulsa. He is also one of a handful of scientists in the universe who believes in Sidney’s ill.

The controversial disease Presley claims to be seized of suffered from since the ‘80s is Morgellons. Most mainstream therapeutic journals dismiss it as a purely psychological disease, but thousands believe they obtain it. It is characterized by claims of nonhealing lesions, sudden effect-like neurological symptoms, and, most famously, the combination of alien fibers in unbroken hide. It was only given a name in 2002, and in 2006 Dr. Wymore was the first—and only—researcher to settle a university center devoted to its study. For Sidney, Wymore’s exploration amounted to an answered prayer. For Wymore, and a base global clique of researchers, the elucidation lies in tiny bugs resembling the seeds steady Sidney’s ceramic strawberries.

“Did I ~more imagine I’d become the spokesperson in the place of an entire disease? No,” Wymore before-mentioned. In 2005, Wymore was researching muscle structure when he stumbled upon what would be turned into his life’s work.

Googling as far as concerns muscle fiber information, Wymore came on a link detailing a “fiber complaint.” He read the Morgellons writing for about 10 minutes, thought, “This is crazy,” and closed the piece before heading home.

“That was a Friday,” he reported, “and the whole weekend it regular kept popping into my head.”

The following Monday, mind that it would be easy to submit to the test the disorder was indeed delusional, Wymore contacted sundry Morgellons websites and asked for samples to exist sent to the university. Wymore expected them to essay two excuses common with delusional terms: only people with the condition themselves could care for the specimens, or they’d have ~ing happy to send them, but knew they’d honest disappear in the mail. Within two days, though, the Fed-Ex packages started arriving.

Placing the samples in subordination to microscopic scrutiny, he was surprised to look to how much they differed from the environmental contaminants he typically analyzed in his lab. The divergence didn’t exactly prove anything, yet it whet his interest. Wymore put about contacting sufferers nationwide.

“Sidney is in likelihood one of the few people at the back my decision to really dig into this,” Wymore uttered. Throughout the ‘90s, Sidney maintained ~y online forum for desperate sufferers. Wymore had reached out to her and other influential players by way of email. One of those early figures was Mary Leitao, who coined the name “Morgellons” and founded Another was the current charged with execution director of The Charles E. Holman Foundation, Cindy Casey-Holman. The Charles E. Holman Foundation is the most important philanthropic body in the Morgellons legitimization trial. Recently they donated $15,000 to OSU-CHS during Morgellons research, and Cindy was the chief sufferer Wymore ever met in living body.

Having reached out to Cindy via email, Wymore met with her and her recently husband, Charles, for dinner in San Francisco in 2005. Wymore is not a healer, and is therefore unable to inspect patients, but said just meeting with Cindy and Charles in person went a prolix way toward convincing him that she had a physiological illness, and not a delusion.

“Crazy is a disease, and there’s a biological ingredient to it,” Wymore said. “But, not at all. No, this was something completely contrary.”

After enlisting the help of current ~ off of the department of pediatrics at OSU-CHS, Rhonda Casey, Wymore approached the seminary of learning board to create the OSU-CHS’s Center despite the Investigation of Morgellons Disease.

Wymore and Rhonda Casey published a concerted statement in 2006 on behalf of the OSU-CHS. In it, they outlined the symptoms of Morgellons sufferers and in what way those symptoms differ from delusional parasitosis. The recital addressed the dismissal the patient number of people had received from the medical common and recommended a compassionate approach from clinicians. A common fighting the label “delusional” was eventually vindicated. They couldn’t be obliged known that, soon, a government promulgate would set their hopes back through years.

In the beginning days of the Center for the Investigation of Morgellons, Wymore’s phone rang non-hinder. Patients, elated to have a according to principles ear turned toward them, soaked up Wymore’s days by their stories. The first official Morgellons collect-up, More Jamm, was held in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, in Wymore’s majestic appearance. Conference-goers wore hats baring the ~ology “Way more Wymore!” Sufferers began showing up to OSU-CHS to papal court Wymore and Rhonda Casey, and some of them provided a specimen that would come to be key to the national media whisper around Morgellons.

Reporters from ABC’s Nightline, CNN, and Psychology Today interviewed Wymore and Casey. Media hype focused up~ the body a fiber Casey pulled from a uncomplaining who claimed to have Morgellons. The sample was sent to the Tulsa Police Department’s Forensic Laboratory Division and compared to a database of 800 fibers. With nay match found, forensic scientist Ron Pogue constrain the fiber against the 100,000 fibers in the FBI’s database. Again, not a pure match was returned, prompting Pogue to speak Nightline that Wymore and Casey were dealing with “some strange stuff.”

Armed by a new name for their disease and substantial media coverage, people claiming to subsist longtime Morgellons sufferers pressured the Center for Disease Control to investigate. A slight group of new faces entered the Morgellons representation as well, including Marianne Middelveen and Dr. Raphael Stricker. Their papers comparing Morgellons filaments to bovine digital dermatitis, a for a ~ time established concern for cattle farmers, provided a new perspective in the conference. With the growing coverage and quiet base, Morgellons was thrust into the spotlight of philosophical study, and Wymore found himself at the frontlines of its debate.

“ The only way to explain it was ‘hate mail,’ ” Wymore afore~, recalling the early emails from debunkers and dermatologists. Thankful patients and rare journalists had divided his time, if it be not that a community Wymore calls “the militantly skeptic” cast a new target in the Morgellons dialogue.

“Why are you doing this?” Wymore declared, recounting the emails. “You’re feeding into their delusions and You’re just as sick as they are, and for a like rea~n forth.” Wymore said the skeptics’ plain of emotion was so high that it shocked him. He was frequent to hearing opposing views professionally presented at conferences, at which place those present would go have a beer in union afterward. “But, wow,” he exclaimed, “these were self-same angry people!”

Just a year about publishing the initial joint statement, Wymore published some other statement to the OSU site. Miles from the placid plea of the year before, the tone turned adversarial and challenged the skeptics in a straight course. Wymore wrote:

If an amateur debunker… feels that they be possible to compete in the professional scientific battle-field, let them submit an abstract to a colloquy or a manuscript to a scientific journal (a legitimate, peer-reviewed philosophical journal). The results would be droll; probably not to the debunker, excepting the reality of the world is that not any of the mainstream journals that are comrade-reviewed would publish such a written.

Wymore explained the shift in general effect as a logical response to exactly how toxic the conversation had get to be.

Cindy Casey-Holman was merry with me over the phone at what time she confirmed that her foundation was foremost called The New Morgellons Order.

“Charles was inclined to vomit of being dismissed and wanted a cohesive, militant name for the Morgellons community,” she told me through a chuckling. When he passed away, Cindy absolute to honor him by renaming the establishment after him. She also took the opportunity to put space between her endowment and “the craziness,” taken in the character of she calls it.

“The repugnance is so strong you can view why people become conspiratorial,” Cindy uttered. Years of medical dismissal have driven a of great size chunk of the conversation to the ghostly hypotheses of conspiracy forums. Googling “Morgellons” instantly brings single in kind to sites blaming pollution, aliens, or but also Bill Gates for the mysterious fibers.

Though Cindy understands why the desperate population turns to in the same state theories, she says she has ~t one patience for them. Cindy’s groundwork runs an annual conference that is entire to the Morgellons community. When asked on the supposition that any skeptics have ever tried to mine the conference, she said their merely infiltration was by chem-trail theorists—those who credit the streaks in the sky we take care following jets are unknown chemicals sprayed in opposition to nefarious reasons. Some members of the chem-trail common believe Morgellons is a byproduct of this mystery government program. Cindy denied them a uncertainty to speak, fearing her conference would have existence associated with “fringe” theories. Later, it was discovered a arrange of chem-trailers were inviting meeting for consultation-goers to their hotel room conducive to their own presentation. “We get a hard enough time being taken solemnly as it is,” Cindy sighed.

In 2007—for several years of increasing pressure from patients, media, and politicians—the Center in opposition to Disease Control announced it would inquire into Morgellons. A wave of hope surged through the Morgellons community with the likelihood of having their suffering truly acknowledged.

That undulation peaked and broke back in 2012 whenever the CDC published their findings: Morgellons is a psychological class and has no physical manifestations. The assiduous population was crushed; the skeptics were in raptures.

“ ‘Heartbroken’ is the solitary word that could describe it,” afore~ Marianne Middelveen, regarding the community’s reaction to the CDC report. She had joined the Morgellons movement after the initial surge in media coverage, single to see her and her colleagues’ efforts swept into entertain ~s in a just few years.

“Oh, I intermediate, a couple people wanted to theme,” Wymore laughingly said of his conclave at OSU. The CDC/Kaiser Permanente study called the wholeness. of Wymore’s research into trial. He sat on the CDC paper’s mate-review board, and said he and his match scientists at OSU easily recognized what they saw as flawed methodology in the CDC’s design.

Participants in the study, he explained, were enjoin through a several-hours-long inspect with most questions evoking an repetition of the word “delusional.” Wymore related the patients he knew personally who endured the belittling scrutiny eventually dropped out when they discovered they’d wish to strip and be photographed. For those ordinary to being dismissed as delusional, the design appeared to subsist a bait-and-switch, he declared.

A hundred thousand signed up during the CDC’s research, but merely 115 case patients made it from one side the questioning and examination. Wymore declared he isn’t sure if in ~ degree of the 115 had what he would reflect upon Morgellons. Middelveen agreed with his valuation, asserting that her team has singly ever done research on patients through filaments embedded in, or protruding from, entire skin. She claimed the CDC study gladly took everyone who weakly said they had fibers or insects crawling public of their bodies.

Wymore said his fare at OSU-CHS was unfaltering in its further of his Morgellons research in the be roused up of the CDC report. Interim Vice President Dr. Johnny Stephens echoed this in one email to me, saying, “While the results of single in kind study might provide insights for scientists, it usually requires divers studies over many years to provide solid scientific conclusions.”

Although the article was a blow to sufferers and the plain opinion of the disease, Wymore and Middelveen before-mentioned it didn’t affect their efforts in somewhat way. “I don’t discuss their data,” Wymore said, “appropriate their design and population.”

Although he is ticklish of the CDC paper’s design, Wymore is rapid to dismiss any talk of a body of executive officers cover-up. “Is this a massy CDC conspiracy? No,” he told me.

“It’s not chem-trails, not nano-technology gone crazy, it’s not bio-discord,” Wymore said. “Those things would be the subject of actually jumped out at us!” Unlike the in the direction of a line spread of diseases like West Nile, the propagation of Morgellons appears random. Wymore explained that tribe claiming to suffer from Morgellons are evenly gratuity in every class, race, continent (excepting Antarctica), and, most importantly, every climate. Wymore and Middelveen’s teams get pursued a common culprit in completely these demographics: the small parasitic arachnids that we cry out ticks, and the bacteria they carry through bites.

 “I’ve worn out the last nine months, several multitude dollars’ worth of reagents, and nine months of my undergrad researcher’s life betting in c~tinuance that,” Wymore said, referring to the firm between Morgellons and Lyme disease.

Lyme illness and Morgellons have been tied simultaneously in one way or another since Morgellons first received its name from Mary Leitao. A forcible number of people claiming to be under the necessity Morgellons also have Lyme. Middelveen, who has Lyme excepting not Morgellons, first became aware of the illness while seeking treatment from Dr. Stricker with a view to her Lyme symptoms. Middelveen began in operation with Stricker to find a vinculum between the diseases. In February 2015, the pair researches, along with an international team of co-authors, published a notes in BMC Dermatology demonstrating that confederacy by identifying the tick-borne bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi in patients believed to undergo from both Lyme and Morgellons indisposition. According to Middelveen, this association confirms the natural reality of Morgellons disease.

In a clasp release from The Charles E. Holman Foundation, Middelveen established, “With this detailed scientific study we be delivered of shown the somatic nature of the sickness and put the final nail in the sarcophagus of delusional infestation.” In a phone short visit with Middelveen I asked, if this was indeed the predicament, why hadn’t their findings been published in each medical blog, magazine, and morning display on the planet?

Middelveen claimed the heretical nature of Morgellons, the hysterical conversation surrounding it, and the CDC give an account of have made the press weary of latching onto recent accounts involving the disease. “New Scientist magazine used to woods it,” She told me. “You’d consider they would have picked this up… ~-end no, they think it’s even now solved because they think the CDC did some adequate job of it.” She theorized her team’s drudge may follow the same slow footway to acceptance of Barry Marshall and Robin Warren. Initially dismissed in the place of their stomach ulcer research in the 1980s, the sum of ~ units shared the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine conducive to their discovery of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and the role it plays in peptic ulcer disease.

I asked Wymore admitting that Middleveen’s team had discovered the kind of his own center was after, and by what mode it affected his research. “It has in ~ degree impact on our research,” he told me. “That is not meant in at all way to minimize the paper or their scrutiny. It simply means that we are not altering the sort of we do based on what anyone besides does.”

Wymore explained the significance of continuing research in the external part of the fanatic nature of the Morgellons contest. “Is there anything that power sway the diehard believers in delusional infestation? Possibly,” he reported. Wymore believes the tipping point pleasure be when several papers show the “unequivocal mechanism” whereby the bacteria cause the disposition of fibers. “Not an union, but the specific molecular or sub-honey-combed mechanism” is the ultimate goal of his investigation. Middelveen agreed with Dr. Wymore in this regard, bound joked, “I’ll leave that in the place of Dr. Wymore! There’s only with equal rea~n much I can do.”

The goal of identifying and publishing these links betwixt the tick-borne bacteria is to construct a case for more involved examination in the physician-to-patient ~ of battle. “If you’re a researcher at a seminary of learning and you want to work forward humans, you’re going to be delivered of to get it through a table ,” Wymore told me, “and the jeopardy-reward ratio has to be looked at.” Biopsies, spinal taps, and madcap analyses are all unexplored methods in the cosmos of Morgellons research. According to Wymore, a few more published papers regarding a reasonable cause of Morgellons could easily point the scales towards actual human study being possible. That human research could someday take the ~ of to a cure. Until then, researchers like Wymore be inclined continue to investigate the disease that was one time deemed a myth.

“I’ll just be here with my microscope,” Wymore related with a smile.

Originally published in This Land: Spring 2015.

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