What’s next for the ailing instructor?

Kylie Corbett

UPDATE — Dec. 28, 2011

On Dec. 28, Margie Ahearn let the public know via Facebook, that Amy Ahearn was picked up by LAPD on Dec. 22.  Amy Ahearn was hospitalized again.  

Margie Ahearn posted, “I am thankful she will not be on the street this Christmas and pray she will not be back on the street in the new year.  Merry Christmas all!” 

Follow these posts on the Facebook page that Margie Ahearn created after her sister’s first disappearance.


UPDATE — Dec. 7, 2011

According to a Facebook post that Margie Ahearn posted on Dec. 1, Amy Ahearn’s current whereabouts are unknown.

Margie posted, “Just wanted to let you know that the hospital released Amy on Nov 21. They did not tell me this in advance and could give me no info about where she was when I called after the fact later in the week. I think she is on the street again in LA and have no idea once again where she is. Due to HIPAA, the hospital never gave me info whenever I called and asked about Amy. I couldn’t believe they let her go after only a week.”

At the end of the post, she said, “Not sure what to do at this point.”

Nov. 22, 2011

Family, friends, and colleagues of Saddleback College instructor Amy Ahearn have breathed a sigh of relief now that she has been found safe in South Los Angeles after missing for two months. But her future is uncertain.

“I truly believe it was a miracle we found Amy and she was safe,” said Amy’s sister, Margie Ahearn.

Some time ago, those who know her say, she began to display symptoms typical of Huntington’s Disease, a degenerative condition that breaks down nerve cells in the brain, and runs in her family.

According to the Mayo Clinic, this could lead to a decrease in cognitive ability, as well as emotional and mental disturbances.

Family private investigator, Kathie Allen, said that Amy Ahearn has not been diagnosed with the disease.

According to Jody Goldstein, center coordinator of Huntington’s Disease Center of Excellence, University of California, San Diego, it’s unclear whether she would be able to return to her teaching position given the symptoms that were reported she may have displayed when found.

“It’s tricky,” Goldstein said. “It’s possible to treat the symptoms unfortunately, this isn’t always the case because sometimes people wait too long to seek treatment.”

Goldstein said the most common symptom when a person first shows signs of the disease is that they appear to have been drinking with slurred speech and a staggered gait.

“It is possible for her to return to a normal lifestyle and her teaching career if she finds a physician who specializes in the disease,” she said. “The doctors’ team will evaluate and prescribe medication to treat the symptoms.”

Amy Ahearn did not show up to her job on the first day of fall semester, said Kevin O’Connor, dean of liberal arts. As a result, O’Connor met all of her classes the first week.

“It was when students from the first class of the first day of fall semester came to the division office saying ‘Our professor wasn’t present,’ and then I went to all the other classes that week,” he said. “By the end of the first week, the whole substitute faculty met all the classes commencing the second week, and that’s how it’s been handled for the remaining of the semester.”

Ahearn ended up on Ana Ruvalcaba’s front yard in Norwalk on Sept 18., where she was first sighted.

Ruvalcaba invited Ahearn into her home after watching her sit on the curb for hours.

“My first thought was that she needs help,” Ruvalcaba said. “The look that Amy had when I first saw her was the look of a person in need of help, but couldn’t say it.”

Ruvalcaba had no idea she was a missing person until Ahearn’s story aired on ABC News Los Angeles affiliate KABC.

“From then on, every time I would get in my car and drive,” Ruvalcaba said, “I would look for Amy. I followed her story and kept in contact with Margie and Kathie.”

Ruvalcaba described Ahearn as being disoriented and dishelved.

“I [felt] it was very necessary because I was the last to see her, and most important because Amy looked [completely] different now than how she

looked on the missing bulletins,” she said.

Margie Ahearn later thanked Ruvalcaba’s family for its ongoing support.

“You and your family gave my family hope that we would find Amy,” Margie Ahearn said she told them. “I knew if she had people like you looking after her that maybe she would be OK.

“I can not express how overcome with emotion I am when I think of my sister resting in your warm, loving home, having cake, coffee, and talking with all of you into the night,” Margie Ahearn said. “I will always keep that image of all of you together in my heart.”

Ahearn’s family lives out of state, so it was particularly difficult for Margie Ahearn, who is also starting to exhibit signs of Huntington’s, to deal with the situation on a day-to-day basis.

“This has been a huge challenge trying to locate Amy from Illinois,” she said, “Sometimes in life you face things that feel beyond your capacity to handle. For me, prayer is so important. “I tried to do everything I could from Illinois by phone and on the computer due to my disabilities with Huntington’s.”

Amy Ahearn was hired as a full-time faculty member about 2000, O’Connor said.

O’Connor expressed great concern about her disappearance, recognizing Amy Ahearn as a “wonderful faculty member, bright, [and] talented.”

“It sounds very tragic if what I read in these articles is true…It’s very heartbreaking,” O’Connor said.

Although Ahearn’s name still remains on the schedule for upcoming spring classes, O’Connor has a feeling she won’t be returning.

“There certainly will be an assurance, including if professor Ahearn is not teaching the set of classes that her name is assigned to in the online schedule, that someone will be there for the classes,” he said.

Finding relief in the support of Amy Ahearn’s family, O’Connor believes that she has strong support from her family.

“The good news is, is that it sounds like she has a very loving, concerned family,” he said. “If there’s a bright spot in any of this, that would be it.”  

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