NAUGATUCK — In 2011, Catherine Ernsky spent Election Day preparing a foray into local politics, where she seemed destined to achieve long-term success.
A fresh-faced young businesswoman, Ernsky displayed many of the qualities necessary for political growth: passion, charisma, intelligence.
Four years later, though, the 45-year-old Republican, who has served two terms as a burgess, was not on the ballot Tuesday. A series of personal setbacks, including a rare neuromuscular disorder that required brain surgery, has forced Ernsky to put politics aside, at least temporarily.
“It was a tough decision because I enjoy it, but I didn’t want to do something halfway, and I didn’t want to block anyone else who wanted to serve,” she said.
Ernsky, who owns a financial consulting firm called “The Ernsky Group,” made the decision not to seek re-election in February, just weeks after she had surgery at Yale-New Haven Hospital. On Jan. 12, a neurosurgeon cut into her brain through a procedure called microvascular decompression. It was a relatively successful attempt to reverse the symptoms of hemifacial spasm, a non-life-threatening condition that causes frequent “tics” or muscle spasms on one side of the face.
In 2008, Ernsky started to notice her left eye twitching frequently. She saw a neurologist but had a bad experience and never went back. Last year, the twitching became more frequent and other issues bothered her — her eyelids started twitching and drooping, and the corner of her mouth began twitching incessantly. She could no longer avoid treatment.
A second neurologist prescribed Botox injections around her eye and other Band Aid approaches in an attempt to stop the symptoms but not solve the problem. Finally, doctors determined she needed surgery.
The goal was to reposition the artery that irritates the nerve as it comes out of the brainstem, stopping the spasms at their source, according to the website of the New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
A neurosurgeon makes a small incision behind the ear and then a small opening in the skull to see the small blood vessel pressing on the facial nerve. The blood vessel is then lifted away from the nerve. A tiny pad is inserted on the nerve to prevent further contact with the blood vessel, the website states.
“The surgeon said my condition was worse than she thought because the arteries were wrapped so tight around the nerves,” Ernsky said. “She had to be more aggressive with the surgery, but it worked out well.”
She still experiences side effects such as vertigo, ringing in her ears and infrequent double vision. But for the most part, her condition is nearly cured.
Ernsky, however, was not able to heal as quickly as she should have due to unfortunate outside influences — her father was diagnosed with terminal cancer weeks after her surgery. Ernsky stopped taking care of herself to tend to him day and night. He died on March 26.
“He was adamant that I not run again because I took so much time away from my own healing to help him,” she said.
Ernsky plans to stay involved locally on a smaller scale through the Naugatuck Arts Commission and the Howard Whittemore Memorial Library. And she plans to continue working as a commissioner and vice chairwoman of the state’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, to which she was appointed by the legislature in 2012. The commission works to eliminate sex discrimination in Connecticut.
She is also a member of the New York Women’s Agenda and the American Association of University Women.
Still, her work as a burgess will be missed, said Kim Kiernan, chairwoman of the Naugatuck Republican Town Committee.
“Catherine is an amazing woman, and Naugatuck has been fortunate to have her as a burgess over the past four years,” Kiernan said. “She is fiscally conservative and not afraid to challenge the status quo, even when it’s not popular … I know that she will continue to stay involved in serving the community with the highest level of integrity and conservatism. Our hearts and prayers are with her as she continues her recovery.”