SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Could electroshock therapy used at Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) in Norfolk properly treat severe autism? That’s the question being tested by a 25-year-old Suffolk man, who is undergoing the experimental treatment.
Bruises cover Corey Dearing’s body and black eyes commonly appear on his face. He habitually wears protective head-gear, but he’s not a boxer. Instead, he has self-injurious autism, meaning he beats himself.
Corey’s dad, Darwyn Dearing, pointed to a hold the size of Corey’s head in a wall of their home: “This is the hole. He put his head into the wall through the drywall, hitting the wood stud with his head … I thought he had broken his neck.”
For protection, Corey wears leg gear, arm gear, and head-gear. “With self-injury, if he were to continue it, he could get a brain bleed,” Dearing said. “You can get vascular hemorrhaging. You can get all kinds of stuff. People can die from that.”
But Corey’s parents hope an experimental treatment he’s getting at EVMS will literally save their son’s life. During Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), the patient is asleep and receives a brief jolt of electricity. Cory gets the therapy three times a week for about five seconds, of which his parents are not allowed to witness in person or via a recording.
“I think the ECT treatment is working,” Dearing said. “We think it has made a huge difference in Corey’s self-injury.”
However, Dearing told WAVY.com the shock therapy hasn’t done much for another symptom Corey suffers from — severe sleep deprivation. On average, Corey is awake for 24 to 35 hours at a time. Still, Dearing and his wife are willing to try anything that may work, and the therapy has success stories at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
“As a parent, you try to hold him, and there was a time when I restrained him. I broke his arm, and I felt awful,” Dearing said. “What do you do? He kept beating with the other arm because he has a high tolerance of pain. I felt his arm snap like a board. What do you do with that? What do you do?”
Corey lives a lonely life. No friends. No visitors. In some ways, he is a prisoner in his own body. His parents feel the extension of those challenges.
“My wife and I, we just sit there and cry. We are just so tired, and people say ‘put him in an institution.’ As a parent, you say, ‘that is my son, and I just can’t do that.’”
At the very least, there’s one sure thing Corey has going in his favor — dedicated loving parents.
“God gave him to me for a reason and a purpose, and you pray all the time, ‘Lord please.’ You get so tired, you get so run down,” Dearing said.
Corey’s mother said he has actually broken her ribs before, and Corey’s dad said he hopes their story will help other families who are dealing with the same medical condition.
WAVY.com called EVMS several times for comment on Electroconvulsive Therapy, but our calls were not returned.