Desiree Jennings Medical Mystery: Hoax or Dystonia? (PHOTOS, VIDEO)
Desiree Jennings, a former cheerleader for the Washington Redskins, was living a healthy and happy life until last fall, when she opted to get a routine flu shot at her local super market. Then she claims her life began to deteriorate rapidly.
The 25-year-old, who was enjoying a challenging job in marketing, began experiencing fever and body aches, and within 10 days was walking with a twisted gait, had trouble reading and doing simple math problems, and experienced memory issues.
She and her husband Brendan Jennings began seeing a string of medical professionals in search of help. She scoured the Internet and came upon the condition Dystonia, a rare neurological movement disorder that causes muscles to twitch and convulse involuntarily. It can be hereditary or be caused by physical trauma, infection, poisoning or reaction to pharmaceutical drugs. She was sure she had found what she was seeking.
People with Dystonia have problems walking forward but are able to walk backward with no difficulty, and they can run. The former runner immediately put on her track shoes. She said: "It's the strangest thing. As soon as you try to get into a running motion, you feel the whole body correcting itself."
She took this information to the media and became an overnight sensation and poster child for the anti-vaccine movement.
She also sought the help of Dr. Rashid Buttar, an Osteopath who has been providing her with alternative treatment. He took steps to rid Jennings' body of mercury, which he claims was present in the flu vaccine and was poisoning her body. His 'chelation therapy' binds heavy metals so that they can be eliminated in the urine.
Desiree improved dramatically within two weeks of treatment. Many started to suspect that this was all a hoax. The most skeptical are members of the medical community. Several noted neurologists told 20/20 that her symptoms are not caused by mercury in a flu shot. They say that the amount of mercury she would have received is far less that she could have gotten in a serving to tuna.
The medical professionals consulted by 20/20 suggest that she is suffering a psychogenic disorder and not a neurological disorder. The improvement she experienced from Buttar's controversial treatment likely worked because she thought it would - the placebo effect.
Jennings' condition has improved but she is still seeking answers. She said: "If I have to go over to China and do experimental procedures, I'll find a way to get it all back. It may take a while, but I will get everything back. I will find a way."
Check out more photos and video from the 20/20 broadcast below: