Curse of Tourette’s becomes a blessing in disguise

Horseheads, N.Y.  Teen Finds New Purpose Through Illness
‘Curse’ of Tourette’s becomes a blessing in disguise
August 7, 2011

HORSEHEADS, New York — Seventeen-year-old Cory Sweet wanted to die five years ago.

His  school report card, once full of the high 90s that made him proud, was in the tank. And his body would not stop shaking. It started in his head and neck, then moved to his arms and hands, where it remains today.

Three years passed before the cause — Tourette’s syndrome — was found. Three years of painful involuntary arm and hand movements. Experts said the cause was Cory — he wanted attention. He was picked on by classmates who couldn’t understand such behavior from a normally quiet and intelligent teen. His mom and dad, Debbie and Arnie Brown, took him to medical centers as far away as Rochester and Buffalo in futile searches for a diagnosis.

Cory sank into a depression that ruined his grades and triggered thoughts of suicide.

There is a happy ending, thanks to Cory’s grit, his loving family, a letter of apology from his classmates and an act of God. He graduated from Horseheads High School with high honors in June. Soon he’s off to college and a career fueled by lessons learned from his ordeal.

Tourette’s is described as “recurrent involuntary tics involving body movement.” To Cory it was a curse.

He reached his lowest point in an eighth-grade report card. He had failed English — unheard of before the shaking began. Convinced his only choice was suicide, he made a plan before his parents arrived to take him home. “I knew he was struggling, but I didn’t realize how bad it was,” his dad said. Cory fell apart on the way home. “I broke down and told them everything,” he said.

He voluntarily spent five days in a mental health program at Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca. Finally, a diagnosis was made by Dr. Daniel E. Britton, a Corning neurologist. Debbie calls Britton her son’s “lifesaver medically.” Said Cory: “The best thing he did was believe in me. He was the first doctor who told me I was not doing it for attention.”

Cory’s mental recovery began in ninth grade during family visits to His Tabernacle Family Church in Horseheads, where he said God got his attention. The depression left him. “I accepted Jesus as my savior, and I felt joy,” he said. Said his father, “It was overwhelming to see the changes in him.”

Cory found relief from Tourette’s in the church sign-language ministry. “They signed the praise and worship songs,” he said. “I imitated them and found it helped with my tics. I have control over my arms and hands.”

Today he is leader of the sign-language ministry. His report card returned to the 90s and he was inducted into the National Honor Society, the National Technical Honor Society and Phi Beta Kappa. Final high school average: 95.

Cory joined the Health Occupation Students of America and competed in its New York state medical math and prepared speaking contests this year.

Read more…

The story doesn’t end there, though. Recently, on tyhe Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada’s Forum Community, Cory’s mother joined to update us:

Thank you for sharing my son’s story with everyone. He said if it even helps one individual then it was well worth telling his story. Cory is doing great in college and enjoys it very much. He is not limiting himself. The nice thing about college is everyone tries to be different. He is trying many new things like football, rock climbing and other activities. I know he has struggles and I’m sure when he gets stressed or homesick, his tics become much worse, but he is at home at this college learning interpreting, because it is a way of life for him. He is human and does have his days, but then realizes how bad it was at one time. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do anything or limit you! Find your calling and embrace it! Never give up! God Bless!

And she added the following:

Below is a… video of an example of a prepared speaking presentation that he took 2nd Place in at the HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America) this past Spring.

Cory was also denied the extra time from the College Board for his college testing, but he adjusted. He knew he had overcome much worse & this was just another obstacle he would have to overcome and not let it overcome him.


The discussion continues here


9 Replies to “Curse of Tourette’s becomes a blessing in disguise”

  1. Lovely story and what a way to embrace who he is instead of hating himself. Very courageous and inspiring. I would hope that many people will hear and benefit from his story.

  2. As a mom of a wonderful 9 year old boy who has Tourettes, I love to hear about kids like Cory. It gives me hope, and it gives my son hope. These kids have to deal with soo much and yet they are soo resilient and strong!

  3. It’s a lovely story, and everyone is glad that things turned out so well. However, it is unfortunate that a person’s experience can be dismissed by so-called “experts”. And the charge of a young boy behaving in an unexpected way because he “wanted attention” would seem to have been considered to be grave indeed, a sign of a poor character rather than of desperation. Was the letter from his classmates an apology only because it turned out that it wasn’t his “fault”? He turned out to be an OK person after all. I suspect that only half of the lesson that needed to be learned was learned.

  4. Yes, perhaps I should have been clearer.

    One half of the lesson is that we should be careful about judging, because we probably do not really know very much at all, In this case, the “experts” and the classmates turned out to have been mistaken in their belief that Cory was just wanting attention.

    The other half of the lesson, the one that there is no indication in this story that anyone learned, is that, unless a person is causing active harm to those around them, it is usually safest to assume that there is a good reason for them doing what they are doing and that, by default, we ought always to treat them with dignity and respect.

    Even if it had turned out that Cory had been “wanting attention”, a young boy behaving in such an unusual way in order to obtain it would likely be a symptom of extreme distress. In such an instance, ought he not to be treated with even more care and kindness? However, the impression left by this story is that apologies came not because he had been abused by his classmates, but because they had discovered that the basis on which they had abused him turned out to be, in their view “not legitimate”. So now they are absolved, and everyone is happy. However, this begs the question as to whether, had he been discovered to have been seeking attention, the abuse would have been “legitimate”.

    The point is that the apology and Cory’s elevation to hero status were conditional on him being “legitimately” disabled by certain very particular criteria that, it seems obvious to me, are no more “legitimate” than the basis on which he was dismissed and abused.

    I hope that I have made this clearer.


  5. It’s a very nice story. Sincerely. However, pleeeeease, anyone who’s child is diagnosed Tourette’s (and whatever else along with it) — or your seeing tics, ocd, anxiety, adhd in some combo, HAVE YOUR CHILD EVALUATED BY A PANDAS EXPERT TO RULE OUT PANDAS/PANS. Treatment may bring significant relief or minimization of symptoms!! Worth a shot! Untreated PANDAS/PANS leads to signification mental health difficults and possibly severe (quality of life? psych hospitalization?).

  6. I am Cory’s Mom. Cory was picked on many times before 7th grade due to his weight. I am sure every child has been subject to being bullied at one point or another. I believe that what really pushed Cory over the edge was these adults that were to be “experts” told him he was doing it for attention. These doctors told him that right to his face. My personal opinion would of been to address us as parents without Cory present to discuss the situation instead of telling a 7th grader (at that time) directly that “you are just doing this for attention.” As for the letter of apology, I still have it & I give the kids (his entire wrestling team) a lot of credit. I do not condone what they did, but as 7th graders to realize their actions & actually take responsibility for them, without an adult telling them to do that, it did make a difference. They did not write the letter because of his diagnoses because at that point he wasn’t even diagnosed yet. They did write the letter when he was hospitalized for suicidal thoughts (& plans he had made). I know they all did learn a lesson from this experience. It could of been too late if Cory would of followed through, but at least they did take the step, which did mean a lot to him & that is what was important. They all learned a lesson & were very remorseful that their individual actions could of resulted in a death of a fellow classmate. I believe one important factor is educating those around us (family, students, friends). With the education, many became more comfortable and were more compassionate by understanding his diagnoses. Sometimes the unknown makes others very uncomfortable. As for PANDAS….yes….I do still believe it was PANDAS (and still is). But at the time they did not recognize it as an official diagnoses. We didn’t care at that time what they called it. Cory has spoke to many groups of kids & teens about his experience with being suicidal & the bullying. He has had many kids & teens come up to him & say thank you because at that time they were considering suicide, but realized there were people that cared. We are very blessed that Cory has found a coping skill for his tics & still deals with them on a daily basis, even though some days are harder then others. Cory decided to tell his story because he said if it at least helped one other person then it was worth it, but with the feedback we have received since the article, he has been fortunate to touch many & those individuals also have made a difference in his life! This is compassion!

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