“Shane Jones, junior senator from Colorado, lay in his hospital bed in the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona, staring in disbelief at the barrage of doctors and interns assembled in his private room. He could have gone anywhere for medical testing and diagnosis – and had, with no results – but he’d chosen the Mayo Clinic Hospital when a doctor friend from his days in the Marine Corps had recommended it. No other medical professional he’d consulted had ever heard of his symptoms, much less had been able to put a name to them. But the doctors here had.”
While those words from the prologue of romance novelist Amelia Autin’s book, Killer Countdown, are fictional, they depict real-life events. The inspiration, Autin tells us, came when her husband, Vincent, was diagnosed with epilepsy at Mayo Clinic in 2014. “My husband’s symptoms are exactly the symptoms that I give the hero in my book,” she says.
“He was having these episodes where he would all of a sudden become chilled,” she says. “Goosebumps would break out on his arms and legs.” Unable to pinpoint a cause, Vincent’s primary care physician referred him to a local cardiologist, who then referred him to a string of other local specialists. “None of them had ever seemed to have even heard of his symptoms before,” Autin tells us.
At this point, Vincent — like Autin’s lead character — called his son, who was in medical school at the time. “Vincent was telling him his symptoms and bemoaning the fact that he’d seen all these specialists,” Autin says. “His son just happened to be studying the neurology module at the time and then mentioned Vincent’s symptoms to one of his professors. And she said, ‘Well you know, Mayo Clinic is just a couple of hours away, and they’re world famous for specializing in this kind of thing.’”
Vincent called Mayo’s Arizona campus and scheduled an appointment. After “an extensive round of testing,” Autin says, Vincent was diagnosed with a form of epilepsy. Writing the book, she tells us, became her way of “staying sane” through it all. “I honestly didn’t know if the book would ever be published, but it was an emotional outlet for me,” she tells us. “I poured all my fears, all my angst, and subsequently all my relief when Vincent’s diagnosis was finally made, into it.”
Mayo’s Katherine Noe, M.D., Ph.D. — portrayed in the book as “Dr. Rachel Mattingly,” the protagonist’s “neurologist at the Mayo Clinic” — tells us she’s grateful Autin chose to write about epilepsy in the novel, since she believes it’s “one of the most highly stigmatized medical conditions in this country.” She also says the novel “gives an accurate description” of how doctors at Mayo evaluate and treat epilepsy. But even more importantly, it shows readers what it can be like to live with the uncertainty of seizures. “The book has real power to change the minds and hearts of readers in how they perceive epilepsy,” Dr. Noe says. “And for me, that’s the real love story.”
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