Tuesday, January 11, 2000

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
This photo, taken in the span of one-eighth of a second, shows
Brandon Isokane's involuntary spasms caused by Tourette's syndrome.
The disorder, however, doesn't stop the teen from participating in
activities, such as lion-dance practice with friends at the Chinese
Physical Cultural Association.

Teen-ager rises
above Tourette’s

For 16-year-old Brandon Isokane, having the
noticeable disorder Tourette's syndrome is turning
into a life lesson of differences and tolerance. It's a
lesson he's sharing - and others are learning.

By Rod Ohira


CHINESE lion dancing, riding his bike and going to the beach are favorite activities that should make Brandon Isokane just an ordinary guy.

"Except for the tics, I'm a normal person, same as everyone else," the 16-year-old Roosevelt High School sophomore said about the uncontrollable spasms that jerk his body in different directions.

Brandon explains the condition is a symptom of Tourette's syndrome, a neurological disorder affecting an estimated 100,000 Americans.

To the uninformed, the jerky motions look scary and painful.

"It doesn't hurt," he said. "When it's bad, I sometimes get headaches. But some days I'm calm and hardly twitch."

Brandon senses that some people are more comfortable when he refers to the movements as "twitches" rather than "tics."

Tourette's syndrome has made him very sensitive to the perceptions of others.

But instead of shying away, as he once did, Brandon has taken an aggressive approach to alerting people of his condition and, at the same time, educating them about Tourette's syndrome.

During Roosevelt's freshmen orientation in May 1998, Brandon asked to speak to classmates about his condition.

"He has no fears," said Dana Kaneshiro, Brandon's school counselor.

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Brandon Isokane, 16, practices a lion dance for the coming
lunar new year with fellow members of the Chinese
Physical Cultural Association.

Brandon also received permission to speak to Roosevelt upperclassmen about his condition during the first week of school.

What he says adds detail to what is written on the business-size card he handed out to students while attending Washington Intermediate School.

The card says:

"I have a medical condition called Tourette's syndrome. It causes me to make loud sounds, say things I don't mean, or makes my body muscles jerk. I can't control this. I'm sorry if it bothers you -- it bothers me more."

This school year, he needed only to speak to freshmen classes.

"Students usually have a lot of questions for him and Brandon can speak for 40 minutes so we had to limit his time," Kaneshiro said. "Not all kids can do public speaking. It shows his strength."

Brandon is pleased that his classmates are listening.

"There's not too much teasing," he said. "The teasing is mostly play-around kind from friends, so it doesn't go too far.

"I want people to see me as a normal person, not someone weird. Some understand and some just choose to be ignorant."

He takes medication for the disorder, but there are restrictions to what he can eat or drink and do.

"I cannot go to movies with my friends because people would get mad," he said, referring to the tics. "I can't drink sodas or fruit punch; only water, milk and unsweetened tea. No barbeque or tomato sauces or MSG.

"For now, I've got to live with this. The doctors say it should go away."

The youngest of Jerry and Sandra Isokane's two children, Brandon was not born with Tourette's syndrome. He was 7 years old when the first symptoms appeared.

"We were looking at Christmas trees and I started blinking rapidly," he said. "They thought I was allergic to the sap or something. It lasted a couple of months and went away."

The following Christmas, Brandon began experiencing body and facial twitches.

He was then diagnosed with Tourette's syndrome.

There are few warning signs and for some, the disorder begins abruptly with multiple symptoms of movements and sounds. Cursing is one of the vocal symptoms.

The sudden change can be a traumatic experience, especially for a child.

"We were watching a Chinese new year program at Ala Moana Center when this man tells Brandon, 'Eh brah, you look like you mental,' " Sandra Isokane said.

"I'll never forget the hurt I saw on Brandon's face. I told the guy he has a medical condition and he should educate himself instead of being so ignorant."

Brandon has grown up being teased for something he cannot control.

"They'd call me names, like Tweaker, and sometimes it hurt," Brandon said. "I realized I wasn't going to have too many friends, so I never wanted to go to school."

He required a lot of support from his family during those early years.

"He was self-conscious and would always say why me, and not some rotten person," Sandra Isokane said.

"When he was 9, we took Brandon to a Buddhist temple to be blessed and the priest told him that this has happened to him for a reason and the reason is that he will have to teach others about (Tourette's syndrome)."

Brandon took the advice to heart.

"I started explaining with the cards in the seventh grade," he said. "I try to keep patient when I'm teased. My mind tells me now, 'Don't let it bother you.'

"This has made me more aware of challenged people who cannot walk, see or talk who go through the same thing I do. Before I think about how bad my condition is, I say to myself, there are people far worse off than me."

The beach has a calming affect on Brandon's condition.

"I don't know why but when I feel the sand, it calms me down," he said. "Usually when I'm in the city I seem to twitch more. Maybe, it has something to do with pollution or the air."


Bullet What is it? A neurological disorder characterized by involuntary tics, rapid, sudden movements or vocalizations that occur repeatedly in the same way. It is not degenerative. Intelligence and life span for sufferers of the disorder are no different from that of the general population.

Bullet What is the cause? It has not been established. Researchers believe the disorder stems from the abnormal metabolism of at least one brain chemical called dopamine.

Bullet How many people have it? The National Institutes of Heath estimates 100,000 Americans have Tourette's syndrome.

Bullet Is there a cure? None yet. Normally, condition improves in late teens or early 20s.

Bullet Is it inherited? Genetic studies indicate that it is inherited as a dominant gene that causes varying symptoms in different family members. There's about a 50 percent chance with each separate pregnancy of passing the gene.

Bullet What is the first symptom? A facial tic such as rapidly blinking eyes or twitches of the mouth. Also, involuntary sounds such as throat clearing or sniffling.

Bullet Other symptoms? Uttering words or phrases out of context, sometimes vocalizing socially unacceptable words.

Bullet How is it treated? The majority are not disabled by tics and require no medication. Prescription drugs are available to help control the symptoms when they interfere with functioning.

Source: Tourette's Syndrome Association Inc.

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