Something’s Killing Me: Fatal Insomnia

I recently produced a special about fatal insomnia for the CNN Headline News series Something’s Killing Me. It’s about a horrific disease called FFI (Fatal Familial Insomnia) which robs victims of sleep literally until they die. One day, out of nowhere, FFI sufferers start feeling strange: they sweat, their eyes become tiny pin pricks, their coordination deteriorates. One woman started bumping into furniture. Another made an error in judgment while driving, which was totally out of character for her. As a result she had a car accident. Here’s what happens with FFI: proteins that we all have, called prionsbecome corrupted. Much as is the case with Alzheimer’s, the disease attacks neurons in the brain. Consequently, the FFI sufferer becomes more and more debilitated. Within months they can no longer function. Death comes in six months to two years. It’s a horrible way to die.

The next time you have a sleepless night, don’t worry: most likely it’s not FFI. Only a few dozen families have it in the world. You would likely have lost a parent from it by now. (If that’s the case you would have a 50-50 chance of inheriting the genetic mutation that causes it.) FFI usually strikes around the age of 50.

My Own Personal Challenges

While I have little reason to complain compared to to someone with fatal insomnia, producing this particular show tested me more than any other in my career.

As always, I put a massive amount of heart and soul into it. But for those familiar with my work ethic—and there are many of you out there—this one goes beyond the usual Caroline Sommers “living and breathing the story” brand of OCD. Over the few months it took to book, shoot, write and edit this report, I lost my mother, nearly lost my father, and as if that wasn’t enough I had to grapple with a stupid number of other difficult situations. It was a highly complicated four or five months to say the least. And yet…I took a licking and kept on ticking. Not looking for any pats on the back here but I think this speaks volumes about my grit and determination. I get s**t done, even under the worst of circumstances. Seemed like someone was testing me. Guess what? I passed.

The Big Question: What’s Next

After I finished the FFI report I produced a follow-up project for HLN, about the murder of fashion designer Gianni Versace. It airs October 20th. That was a big push and when it was all over I had to take a short breather. There’s no better time than autumn in New York to catch up on a long reading list, take a Premiere Pro editing class, and spend Sundays reading The New York Times from cover to cover and killing the Sunday crossword puzzle.

I’m glad I have this story to show for my time at CNN. Take a look. I say it’s worth 40 or so minutes of your time.


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