September 08, 2004

Family raises $$ for research

Brandon Staglin had a bright and promising future. As a child, he skipped grades at school, had a perfect GPA, stellar test scores, and a high IQ. As a national merit scholar and with aspirations of being an astronautical engineer at age 18, his descent into schizophrenia was sudden and stunning to him and to those who knew him. Within his first week of showing symptoms, he was picked up by the police for wandering around the town of Lafayette and put in a mental institution.

From the day his parents rushed home from a business trip in Paris to collect their son, the family started down a tumultuous and frightening road together.

"We thought there was a huge mistake," says Brandon's mother, Shari Staglin. "There was confusion, fear. We took him home from the hospital, and I remember him saying there was something wrong with his bed. He kept doing this unusual action with his hand."

Garen Staglin, Brandon's father, agreed. "He couldn't function. He was hearing voices that were tormenting him. He couldn't get rid of incoherent thoughts."

After his initial break in 1990, it appeared that Brandon might beat the odds of his illness, and go on to fulfill all his previous potential. He returned to Dartmouth and graduated in 1993 as an anthropology/engineering science major. Working first as a marketing analyst and then as an astronautical engineer, he planned to get his master's degree in engineering.

In 1996, he had his second major break.

"It was a new manifestation of my disease," said Brandon. "I would hallucinate pain. It started in my upper left forehead. Eventually I was experiencing stabbing pain in my stomach. The pain was so bad that I couldn't walk. I couldn't eat. It felt like a spear was going into my stomach."

Brandon checked into an out-patient psychiatric hospital at UCSF, and battled with his illness. Many times he had to pull himself back from the brink of suicide.

From watching and participating in their son's struggle, the Staglin's were moved to make a major contribution to the schizophrenia community. Through connections in venture capitalism, they initiated the Music Festival for Mental Health in 1994. Most of the $90,000 raised from the event was given to the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression.

Today, the Staglins remain in contact with leading schizophrenia researchers, and have created an international council of scientists on the topic of schizophrenia. Their newest project is to offer a $250,000 grant to an young up-and-coming researcher (under the age of 45) who has a promising breakthrough project planned around schizophrenia.

Other projects funded by the Staglins include an endowed professorship at UCLA, and a pilot program at UCSF that uses software programs to provide intensive therapy training to schizophrenia patients.

Besides their generosity and activism, the Staglins have done much to break down the barriers of stigma. "They have decreased the stigma of mental illness," says Craig Van Dyke, chairman of the UCSF Dept. of Psychiatry. "In telling their story, they are giving other families hope."

The Staglin's continue to stress that they do what they do for their son. Today, 34 year-old Brandon is stable on a regimen of medications. He manages his own illness, setting his watch timer to remind him of his meds, and works independently as a writer and a web designer. But he is still troubled by common banes that affect many schizophrenia patients - emotional flatness that isn't helped by medication, apathy where there once was energy.

"I'm not the dynamo I once was, but I'm feeling warmth again," Brandon says. "I wrote a poem called 'To Live on The Moon.' It's about the sun rising in my mind, about my starting to feel passion again, about starting to feel ambition."

Why did I love to live on the moon?
Cold, remote, desolate
Yet magnificent, claimed one whom I followed
So easy it is to take life hard
So natural to be lost
So long as you don't realize it
Some part of me was talent latent
And I don't think it is now
The sun's limb warms my eyelids
Thaws my hands
Without ice, I'll need new material
The ground is still slippery
How to get up and run
God, can I even remember?

For the full story, please see "A family's journey to madness and back: Son's schizophrenia spurs parents to raise millions for research" (Sept 7 2004). San Francisco Chronicle (

To read other stories of hope and success from people with schizophrenia, please see "Success Stories" on the website (


Hello, I am interested in learning about ortho molecular treatments for schizophrenia and other neurological disorders. If you know of such treatments, please email me at the above address. Thank you. Elaine Moreno

Posted by: Elaine Moreno at September 22, 2004 08:13 AM

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