Recently we learned about one Barnard student whose medical complications have taken her out of school and uprooted her life. Editor Taylor Grasdalen spoke with her to learn more.
Molly Mittler entered Barnard College as a first-year in August of 2014. Just one day before orientation, Molly had a concussion and chose to follow up by scheduling to meet with a doctor in Barnard’s Primary Care Health Service. The appointment was routine; of course they discussed her recent injury, but also took her blood pressure, went over her health history. Molly disclosed to her doctor that she was taking bupropion, a medication unrelated to her concussion and which she’d started using before coming to school.
Bupropion is notable for its brief removal from the market as one particular side effect—risk of epileptic seizure—was discovered. The doctor with Primary Care failed to inform Molly that bupropion, when combined with her traumatic brain injury, dramatically raises that risk. “So,” Molly tells me, “I had a seizure, right in the middle of Broadway. I got a skull fracture, a second concussion, contusions, and a subdural hematoma.” She tells me that the mortality rate from suffering a subdural hematoma (a collection of blood on the surface of the brain) is approximately 80%, and she’s been one of the minority to survive it. This happened in September.
Molly had to leave school and return home to Massachusetts. Her family struggles with the rapidly accumulating medical bills, and in December she created a Go Fund Me page. Soon, she decided she might contact alumni from the community of which she was now supposed to be a part: “I did the modern day version of going door to door to fundraise—I contacted a few famous Barnard-Columbia alumni.” She felt that at worst, she would be ignored; at best, she’d receive positive support.
“I got responses from quite a few alumni, all of which were positive,” but they were “from CC and SEAS alumni—none from Barnard.” She did not reach one single Barnard alum. Instead, she received a phone call from Dean of the College Avis Hinkson, “chastising me for advocating for myself. She told me that she received complaints from alumni about my email, and asked me to explain. I told her ‘I don’t care.’” Dean Hinkson explained to Molly that all alumni donations should go to the school and not to individual students. But when a student is on medical leave and not presently attending Barnard, where does that put her? Would Barnard really spend its endowment on the medical bills of one student? Molly suggests that “maybe instead of using the alumni donations to raise administration’s six figure incomes, they could use them to actually help students.”
“I am disgusted that Barnard has produced women who, rather than just ignoring the email, would go as far as to complain to Dean Hinkson.” Most of the donations that Molly has received through her fundraising page have come from other students or high school acquaintances. “I am not connected in any way to people who can just hand out money left and right. I have taken my promotion to management at work for the raise, and more hours so I can make more money. I have also gone as far as to sell any belongings that I don’t consider to be ‘necessities’ on Amazon.” She has undergone physical therapy to relearn to walk, occupational therapy for her double vision, and speech therapy for her memory.
She doesn’t know where to go from here. Her story is complicated. But she does plan to continue her recovery, and to pursue legal action. “A legal malpractice research team is reviewing my information. It is necessary to have a very strong case in malpractice lawsuits, as [they] are difficult to win—especially when your opponent has incredibly more access to resources than you do.”
Photo via Molly Mittler’s Facebook.