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The Story Of Molly Mittler


Molly before her injuries.

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.

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  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous I am so sorry for your injuries, Molly. I can’t even imagine the physical, mental, and emotional stress you are dealing with. I just have a question about your first concussion, before beginning orientation. Did you visit a doctor for that particular injury (and if so, did you tell that doctor about the medication you were taking)?

  • Molly Mittler says:

    @Molly Mittler I had gone to work after the first accident had happened, but my manager sent me to a local urgent care center to be checked out – but the visit wasn’t looking for a cause. It was just to get a CT scan after a briefing of what happened (I slipped at a waterfall and hit my head on the way down)

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous don’t take questions in the comments without your malpractice lawyers present molly

  • CC15 says:

    @CC15 Good luck, Molly!!! I’m so sorry that this horrible thing happened to you, but I’m glad you are staying strong.

  • SEAS'13 says:

    @SEAS'13 Best of luck to you!

  • Alum says:

    @Alum I had one formal interaction with Dean Hinkson in my time as a student and I could not believe that an adult, one who was supposedly working for an institution designed to support me, was actually being as rude and dismissive as she was.

    I was making a fairly reasonable request for the continuation of a service that the school had provided for 10+ years or at least an honest explanation for why it was being discontinued. She essentially pretended not to understand my question, thought it was ridiculous that I would even be bringing it to her.

  • BC '18 says:

    @BC '18 Molly. If it gets bad enough and you feel like you can and should you should sue barnard for endangering you. The school failed to warn you of the potentially fatal side-effects. If financials are a problem most lawyers would take this case on a contingency fee (they only get paid if you win). Just an idea. I am so sorry you have to go through this. Get better!!!!

    1. Actually says:

      @Actually I think this is a bit of a stretch. Increased risk of seizure and having sustained a head injury are both relative cautions against using bupropion, but so is age under 25, as Molly clearly is. Meaning that these are not reasons to discontinue the drug altogether. I think it’s tragic that this happened to Molly, but jumping to suing the doctor and/or the school is a bit much (and one reason I’m terrified of becoming a doctor). The doctor who initially prescribed the medication and the doctor who treated her for the first head injury were as responsible for explaining the risks/benefits of her medication as the Barnard doctor, and in the second case I’d actually argue more so. I fail to see this as outright malpractice rather than simply a very sad and unfortunate event.

  • CC '17 says:

    @CC '17 I know that the Universities don’t like students soliciting individual donations from alumni, but come on? Here we have a student who was injured due to the fact that no one from Barnard Medical Services seemed to think that it was a problem that she was on bupropion after suffering a traumatic brain injury (look up the side effects, that’s common knowledge to any prescriber of bupropion).

    I don’t blame her for turning to the school to try and help her. She’s a student here who can’t afford her medical bills and can’t continue to get an education here. And hell, there a lot of wealthy alumni who have the money to offer her support and, from what she’s been telling us, are enthusiastic to help. We should be supporting her all we can and not make it seem as if she isn’t allowed to ask for that support from people in her community. All that’s doing is alienating her and making it seem as if she has to fend for herself just because she suffered a medical complication.

    I’m pretty sure we can afford to set aside a few thousand dollars to help a student with a horrible situation that she had no control over. It’s the least we can do.

    Molly, stay strong. Focus on getting better. I’m sure you’ll be able to pull through this.

  • Am I the only one... says:

    @Am I the only one... who thinks, while her situation is tragic, that is decidedly inappropriate to contact alumni for support due to a personal problem? The alumni network is united in support of the BC or CU, not in support of Molly. And if it was the fault of the university health care, then her action should be solely against the university.

    1. ^And... says:

      @^And... people say we have no sense of community here.

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous I have to agree with the OP, though. This isn’t about not having a sense of community, it’s about it being off-putting to randomly receive an e-mail from someone you’ve never met who is using the name of your school to solicit money. I really do feel for her and her situation, but I understand alums contacting the school, especially if they thought it may be a scam.

    2. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous I’m tempted to feel the same way. But at the same time, what else can she really do? It’s expensive to take legal action. I’m not a lawyer, but her case seems somewhat shaky as it is.

  • BC '15 says:

    @BC '15 This is a very sad situation. But if I got a random email from someone saying they were also a Barnard student and soliciting money from me to help pay their medical bills, I would definitely be wary that it was a scam and try to dig a bit deeper, as the alums who reported it were probably trying to do…

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous Only CC and SEAS students gave her money. Lol. Nice generous Barnard alum…

  • the hinx part says:

    @the hinx part bwog, did you not ask hinkson whether she called Molly or not, and whether she chastised her? or just to characterize the conversation? that is a serious accusation.

    1. Re: contacting Hinkson says:

      @Re: contacting Hinkson I agree, Bwog, you should contact the other side as well, Hinkson, for a comment. We’ve seen too much of one-side reporting in the past year. Start a new better tradition.

      And good luck to Molly. I hope she gets better and finds a way out of her financial troubles.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous This is really sad, and I feel for Molly. But I just have to wonder why she didn’t do some research on her own. A quick Wikipedia search reveals that bupropion can increase the risk of epileptic seizures and was even temporarily taken off the market for that reason. And it’s common knowledge that seizures can result from head trauma. I want the best for Molly and I hope her situation improves, but going after this well-intentioned Barnard doctor just does not seem right. This is something that bothers me in general about our overactive legal system. How reasonable is the expectation that the Barnard doctor should have known about the history and side effects of this drug? It’s not a rhetorical question — I’m actually wondering. What I do know is that a lot of these problems in general could be avoided if people take more initiative to look after their health. Still, this is obviously unfortunate, and I hope Molly gets better.

    1. CC '17 says:

      @CC '17 I take bupropion myself, and I happened to know about those side effects. But that’s because I bothered to look them up myself and learned them well. Patients aren’t expected to know an exhaustive list of side effects. That’s the doctor’s job. That’s why you go to the doctor. And that’s why the doctor went to med school: because they’re supposed to look into medication, know the side effects, and get an accurate medical history of their patient to see if the medication is appropriate. This isn’t about “taking more initiative.” This is about a doctor doing their job and being responsible.

      If the Barnard doctor knew about Molly’s head injury and kept her on the bupropion anyway, then yeah she’s got a pretty strong case. The doctor kept her on a medication that would increase her risk of seizures had she stayed on it.

      Idk who she’s suing or who knew what, but if the doctor knew about the injury and kept her on the meds, that’s their fault. If she didn’t bother to inform the same doctor about both the medication and the head injury, then the case has less weight.

  • BC '15 says:

    @BC '15 I think for me, the most distressing part of this is the lack of respect coming from Avis Hinkson and the administration. Even if Molly’s solicitation of alumni support was not warranted or welcomed by those she contacted, there is absolutely no reason for an administrator to belittle a member of the Barnard community, even if she is not technically on campus. The lack of respect coming from anyone that works at this school is absolutely appalling. Although Dean Hinkson was not given the opportunity to respond to these accusations, I know from first hand experience that students are not valued by members of the administration here at Barnard. Why do you think there is so little Alumni participation in terms of annual giving? Why do you think there was no sense of “Barnard community” when it came to Molly’s requests? The students here are treated like garbage, quite frankly, and I hope that they start to understand the error of their ways. Otherwise, this school is going to come to its demise sooner rather than later.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous I hope you get better soon Molly! I made a contribution to your fund. Sorry you were not treated better by some. And others who only saw negatives.

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