ST. MARYS — A Mercer County man Wednesday afternoon shared his experiences with Rotarians regarding his struggles to overcome a neurological disorder.
Frank Bonifas grew up in Coldwater knowing he had a good mind, despite seeing countless doctors and psychiatrists telling him otherwise. In 1973, Bonifas found a doctor who believed him. Dr. Shaprio believed Bonifas had a neurological disorder and diagnosed him with Tourette Syndrome. His book, “Fu-Fu-Fu-Frank: One man’s struggle with Tourette Syndrome,” explains his experience growing up with the disorder.
Bonifas began showing symptoms of Tourette Syndrome at 7-years-old.
“The teachers just thought I was nervous,” Bonifas said. “Well, then I started throwing my pencil up in the air and I couldn’t catch it. Well, I had a lack of coordination in the second grade.”
His teachers recommended Bonifas see a neurologist. After undergoing several tests, Bonifas was told that he was spoiled and there was not anything wrong with him. When problems continued, Bonifas was told he could have experimental surgery to help determine the problem. After refusing the surgery, Bonifas returned to high school for his freshman year, when his problems worsened. Bonifas began to have trouble with his classmates.
“I was forgetting things,” Bonifas said. “My classmates turned on me because my tics got loud. The teachers mocked me they kicked me out of school. Kids would de-pants me periodically and beat the crap out of me.”
Bonifas’ parents were told it was their fault for “being too motherly and too fatherly,” Bonifas said. So, his parents took him to Columbus every week to see a psychiatrist. He was then admitted to a psychiatric ward for two weeks, where he stayed in the adult ward. At age 14, he knew he did not belong there.
“I was the only normal one on that floor,” Bonifas said. “The nurses were not normal. The doctors were not normal. The patients were not normal.”
The psychiatrist then recommended Bonifas stay at the ward for a long-term treatment, for six to eight weeks.
After a year and a half, the ward still believed Bonifas’ illness was in his head and recommended that he stay long-term at another facility with no contact from his family. His mother disagreed and took Bonifas home, promising they would figure out what was wrong with him.
Through his family doctor in Coldwater, Bonifas was connected to Shapiro at New York Hospital. When the opportunity arose for Bonifas to go to New York, he took it because Shapiro was determined to prove that Tourette Syndrome was a neurological disease. He stayed at the hospital for five weeks, undergoing several daily tests and experimental drugs.
Since leaving the hospital, Bonifas has continued to prove that he has a “good mind.” In a 16-year effort, Bonifas completed his book and said it has been a good tool to inform others about Tourette Syndrome.
“It’s still a problem because Tourette Syndrome is not widely known,” Bonifas said. “It’s still a misunderstood disorder. A lot of doctors still think it’s psychological. My goal for this book is to get the word out that it is a neurological disorder. It’s been a great tool.”
Bonifas’ book is available online at Amazon.com and at the Coldwater Public Library for $15.