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"Ketamine saved my life": Local patient speaks out

Shane Smith / Red Dirt Report
Jan Ferguson receiving an IV infusion of ketamine to treat depression.
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NORMAN, Okla.- When she was just 13, Jan Ferguson attempted suicide for the first time.

“I tried it with aspirin. My dad found my suicide note and the aspirin and basically said, ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’.  He never told my mom,” Ferguson explained. 

When she was 25 she made her second attempt, ingesting what she believed was a lethal dose of pain pills.  She survived that attempt and finally began counseling. 

Her third attempt happened when she was 39, spending the night in a running car inside a garage.

And as recently as one year ago, she tried to end her life with a gun that ended up malfunctioning.

Jan Ferguson, now 56, has spent almost her entire life coping with one of the worst incarnations of a mental illness that affects 350 million people worldwide, with 16 million in the United States. Severe depression has negatively affected every aspect of her life and she has tried almost every treatment in order to cope.  She spoke with Red Dirt Report about her struggle, as well as the one treatment that has proven successful where so many others failed. 

“When I was 25 I spent three weeks in the hospital, self-admitted.  Lots of counseling.  Lots of work trying to overcome it.  Last year after the gun incident I spent a week in the hospital.  I spent four months trying multiple antidepressants before I could try TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation).  It didn’t work. 

It wasn’t until I was 39, after the incident with the garage, that the doctor put me on Zoloft. I was on that for fifteen years and it worked pretty well for awhile, but eventually stopped working entirely.  My hormones changed and it didn’t work anymore. 

Last fall I started electrocranial shock therapy at St. Anthony’s hospital and I had 11 treatments of that. The problem with ECT is that it wipes out your memory. I basically became kind of a zombie. It has devastating side-effects; I had no drive or motivation after the treatments.  I literally don’t remember anything from last Fall.  It wiped out my short-term memory.”

Her experience with ECT was the last straw.  It was at this point that, after extensive research, her sister suggested an unorthodox treatment: ketamine infusion.

“I was to the point where I would try anything.  I felt so bad and just needed something to work... having to fight with it every day.  I mean, I tried the most extreme thing, ECT, so I thought ‘what could be worse than that’?”

They read the research, the testimonies from patients receiving ketamine infusions, and decided that Jan had nothing to lose by trying it. They prepared to travel to Dallas to an infusion clinic there until they discovered the Ketamine Infusion Clinic of Moore, where she met Dr. Rachel Dalthorp and began weekly infusions of ketamine, a synthetic psychedelic compound first developed in 1965.

Jan described the treatments, which turned out to be a pleasant experience for her.

“It turned out to be very peaceful.  They play meditation music while you’re sitting there. And ketamine makes you feel drowsy and light-headed.  And you just sit for forty minutes while it runs its course. And you’re groggy afterward so you can’t drive.”

She spoke highly of the effects of ketamine and of Dr. Dalthorp in particular.

“One thing that I like about ketamine and Dr. Dalthorp is that she did a DNA profile for how your body metabolizes things and it recommends which medicines will or won’t be absorbed properly by your body based on your DNA.  The best thing I can say about ketamine is that there are no side effects, and it was really fast. It was within two weeks. 

There were two, forty-minute IV infusions each week.  And normally, I’m what you would call med-resistant because there are so many things that I’ve tried and they haven’t worked. So for most people, they find relief after the first or second treatment, but for me, it took four. After the first couple, I felt like I had more motivation. I felt like I could get up and do laundry, or get up and do basic things that I hadn’t been doing.”

She had tried Paxil and Prozac with no success and had been living with daily thoughts of suicide for decades at that point, but after several weeks of ketamine treatment, those thoughts vanished. 

“After the fourth treatment, the second week, I didn’t have suicidal thoughts every day. After the sixth treatment, I didn’t have a suicidal thought for weeks. And that was after living with suicidal thoughts for my entire life.”

Jan’s quality of life improved dramatically after beginning ketamine infusions.

“I was spending time with friends more, I joined a quilting group. I go every Monday and I sew.  I’ve signed up for therapy dog class, I have swimming class twice a week with my mom.  I’ve been much more outgoing.  Before ketamine, I just sat around and watched TV or napped.  I used to sleep a lot, way too much.”

Due to the severity of her depression, Jan takes the antidepressant medication Zoloft alongside her ketamine infusions but compared how quickly the effects of each treatment took effect.

“It took Zoloft six weeks to kick in, and that’s a long time when you’re feeling suicidal.  Ketamine works very fast, and it doesn’t have any side effects.”

For Jan, ketamine is far and away the most effective treatment she’s found for her depression. “This treatment is so much more peaceful and easy.  And it has no side-effects, other than being groggy that afternoon. 

I can vouch for ketamine as being something that works fast.  It’s pretty amazing, I was surprised at how fast I was feeling better.”

One drawback of ketamine is that it currently isn’t covered by insurance, and can be pricey.  “It’s expensive.  It’s $500 a treatment.  You have to have money or you have to have friends who can help you.  Which is the sad part, because it does make such a difference so quickly.  It could be saving a lot of people if they could just afford it.  It would be great if insurance companies began covering ketamine because it would save them a lot of money. ECT treatments are $16,000 by comparison.”

For someone who has had to struggle with treatment-resistant depression for her entire life, finding something that works has been nothing short of a miracle.  Her sister Carol, who is a nurse, said that ketamine has given her her life back. 

With a remission rate of only 50 percent with traditional antidepressants, and 45 percent of patients not responding at all to standard treatment, ketamine could be the godsend that millions of Americans have been looking for to finally find relief.  In Jan’s case, she experienced one of the most severe forms of depression, and if ketamine can work for her, the future looks bright for both the millions of suffering from depression and the psychedelic drug itself.

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Shane Smith

Shane Smith is an accountant and freelance writer with a bachelor's degree in economics from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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