Medical Mystery or Hoax: Did Cheerleader Fake a Muscle Disorder?

When Jennings arrived at Buttar's clinic in October 2009, she was barely able to breathe, and collapsed in his waiting room. He pumped her with IVs, and because he suspected she had been poisoned by the mercury in the flu shot, began his unproven chelation process, where chelating agents bind to metals in the body, including mercury, and then are excreted in the urine.

Within less than two weeks, Jennings' condition seemed to improve: she walked again, and her stutter disappeared.

But just as she was leaving Dr. Buttar's clinic on her last visit in December 2009 -- with "20/20's" cameras rolling -- it all seemed to fall apart. Jennings was in distress again. She could no longer walk forward, and had to be taken out in a wheelchair.

Real Symptoms or Hoax?

While millions viewed video of Jennings on YouTube, those following her case grew suspicious that her symptoms were all a hoax. In fact, what has bothered Jennings most about her unorthodox fame is the online assault on her integrity.

"Why would I fake it?" she said during her interview with "20/20." "I've had a great life. . . Now I'm sitting at home every day, bored to tears."

Still, there has been skepticism in the medical world. Dr. Steven Novella, an assistant professor of neurology at Yale, who has followed Jennings' case closely on the Internet and is comfortable commenting from afar because dystonia is primarily a visual diagnosis, said that Jennings' symptoms were not typical of the disease. Novella is confident whatever she has was not caused by mercury in a flu shot.

Other experts consulted by "20/20" agree. Dr. Charles McKay, a board member of the American College of Medical Toxicology, said Jennings would have been exposed to far less mercury in a flu shot than in a tuna steak.

Experts Say Symptoms Are 'Psychogenic'

McKay said Buttar's chelation treatments for Jennings were unnecessary and ineffective.

When asked by "20/20" about the effectiveness of his chelation treatments, Buttar claimed he gets results and pointed to patient testimonials on his website. But when pressed by Jim Avila that "anecdotal stories on the Internet are not science," Buttar responded: "Nobody said it was science."

But what caused Jennings' strange symptoms? Novella and other leading neurologists interviewed by "20/20" believe that Jennings' disease is in her head. They don't believe she has faked her symptoms, but instead that her unconscious mind has caused them.

"It's a psychogenic disorder rather than a neurological disorder," Novella said.

Novella feels the temporary improvements Jennings experienced while undergoing Buttar's treatment were also in her mind: she got better because she thought she would. He called it "the placebo effect on steroids."

Jennings finds the "psychogenic" label insulting. "It's a convenient way for incompetent doctors to get you out of their office," she said.

Today, Jennings' condition does not appear as severe, but she remains convinced that the flu shot caused her condition, and she continues to search for a cure. She says she is currently seeing a specialist for her condition and still seeking answers.

"If I have to go over to China and do experimental procedures, I'll find a way to get it all back," she said. "It may take a while, but I will get everything back. I will find a way."

To learn more about dystonia, visit the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation website.

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