Medical Mystery: Disembarkment Syndrome

ByABC News
January 23, 2007, 5:34 PM

Jan. 24, 2007— -- Imagine that you go on a fun cruise with your sister, and it becomes a cruise that transforms both of your lives. Your sister meets her future husband, and they live happily ever after. Sounds wonderful, right?

But you are Kimberly Johnson, and your "ever after" is horrifying. "When I got off is when my world was turned upside down." Johnson, 26, said she experienced sensations onboard the cruise liner that her sister and her mother did not.

"When we got off the cruise, I told them immediately that something was wrong," she said. "And once I got off is when I realized that I felt like I was still onboard. It didn't go away."

Johnson is not the only one who suffers from this syndrome -- a syndrome so mysterious most doctors aren't even able to recognize it.

Deb Russo, a school technology specialist and mother of two in Longmeadow, Mass., also came home from a trip that changed her life. Russo and her husband took a long-awaited dream vacation to Aruba. On the day they left for Aruba, flight problems caused them to take off from the same airport four times. Russo said she feels as if her world has been rocking ever since.

That was almost three years ago. Now she explains the persistent feeling is like trying to stand up in a rowboat.

"It felt that the street was coming up to hit me in the face," Russo said. "Everything was rocking, and it basically has not stopped since. It's nothing that anybody can imagine."

Johnson and Russo have been diagnosed with a rare condition that goes by the French name of mal de debarquement (MdDs), or disembarkment syndrome. MdDS is characterized by that feeling of constant rocking or feeling off-balance after prolonged exposure to motion, most typically but not exclusively, on a boat.