Hidden Valley Road Book Summary By Robert Kolker

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Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker is an incredibly insightful and powerful book which tells the incredible story of the Galvin family.

This extraordinary family of 12 children, half of whom were diagnosed with schizophrenia, provides a remarkable example for understanding this often misunderstood mental illness.

This descriptive narrative delves into deeply personal stories and reveals their hope for finding answers to the mystery of mental illness.

For those seeking to learn more about schizophrenia, Hidden Valley Road offers an unfiltered and eye-opening look at its effects on families.

Hidden Valley Road Book

Book Name: Hidden Valley Road (Inside the Mind of an American Family)

Author(s): Robert Kolker

Rating: 4.2/5

Reading Time: 31 Minutes

Categories: Health & Nutrition

Author Bio

Robert Kolker is an acclaimed best-selling author and investigative journalist who has penned works that have been featured in esteemed publications, such as New York Magazine and Bloomberg Businessweek.

His newest book, "Hidden Valley Road," is a New York Times best seller that examines the remarkable story of the Galvin family.

Spanning three generations and twelve children, this captivating story chronicles several of the children in the Galvin family being diagnosed with schizophrenia, while the rest were not.

With his dazzlingly intuitive style of writing, Kolker explores their experiences during an era when finding answers for mental health was nearly impossible.

Kolker also wrote "Lost Girls" (2013), which was adapted into a film released in 2020 about a series of unsolved killings on Long Island.

His unique insight and investigative journalism allow us to gain deeper understanding into these topics.

The Galvin Family: A Tale Of Love, Ambition, And Mental Illness

Mental Illness

For generations, the Galvins have been an exceptional family like no other.

Mimi and Don were young, in love and ambitious when they married before Don set off to serve in World War Two.

Don had dreams of becoming a high-ranking figure in the State Department, although it did not quite work out as planned; instead, he joined the Air Force and moved to Colorado with Mimi.

There they raised 12 children: 10 boys and 2 girls.

As this unusual family found themselves at the center of research into schizophrenia and mental illness, their story unraveled to reveal so much more than just their struggles with mental health.

Discover the fascinating story of the Galvins – a remarkable family whose collective experience has helped shape our understanding of genetic disorders such as schizophrenia.

Learn why researchers have long sought out families like theirs, why schizophrenia is still subject to debate, and how certain medications come with fatal side effects.

After Moving Into Their New Home On Hidden Valley Road, The First Signs Of Illness Appeared In Two Of The Galvin Children

When the Galvins moved into Hidden Valley Road in Colorado, things seemed to be going well.

The house was large enough for the twelve children and Mimi and Don were able to fit a massive dining room table to seat them all.

It also had plenty of room for the family’s favorite past time – wrestling matches between Donald and Jim, the two older brothers.

But shortly after moving in, signs that something was wrong began to appear.

Donald started exhibiting strange behavior during his sophomore year at Colorado State University – repeatedly visiting the health center for cat bites and mysterious illnesses like syphilis and back sprains that he claimed came from one of his brothers jumping on him when he visited home.

Things got worse when Donald showed up with serious burns and clothing that had obviously been set on fire.

It turned out that Donald had jumped into a bonfire and it became clear that something was seriously wrong with him.

From this point forward, it only went downhill as the family struggled to understand what was happening with two of their own children – Donald and Jim were both suffering from severe mental illness.

The Diagnosis Of Schizophrenia Is Surrounded By Debate And Confusion

In 1966, Donald received his first diagnosis of schizophrenia after being evaluated by a clinical psychologist.

The evaluation showed evidence of “emotional conflicts,” so Donald was allowed to continue with his studies.

However, things didn’t improve and he eventually entered into a relationship with Marilee, a classmate.

When this ended abruptly, Donald began to spiral out of control, spending hours on the phone and neglecting his rent payments.

It wasn’t until months later when he returned to the health center for another cat bite that he revealed the full extent of what had been going on with him – such as putting a cord around his neck and even visiting a funeral home to price caskets.

After examining all the circumstances, the doctor made a diagnosis of “possible schizophrenic reaction” and brought Donald back home with him and Mimi still not entirely sure how best to help him manage his illness.

At this point in time, doctors were just beginning to understand the complexities surrounding schizophrenia and could not easily explain why someone like Donald was behaving in such ways or why the diagnosis had been made in the first place.

At least one psychiatrist declared it as a “disease of theories” while another called it a “wastebasket diagnostic classification” due to its constantly changing definition over time.

It wasn’t until much later that psychiatrists better understood schizophrenia and finally began providing reliable treatment options for those dealing with it.

Mimi And Don Wanted To Protect Their Family From The Stigma Of Mental Illness In The 1960s

Mental Illness

Mental health institutions had a pooor reputation during the 1960s.

One of the most influential pieces of evidence was a 1959 book by The Caretakers, which revealed unpleasant conditions in many American mental health facilities.

It confirmed that patients were subject to shock treatments, solitary confinement, restraint and drugs such as Thorazine – which was referred to as a ‘chemical lobotomy.’

Colorado State Hospital in Pueblo – only an hour’s drive from Hidden Valley Road – was especially notorious.

After finding out about this horror story and its proximity to their home, Mimi and Don were desperate to shield their son Donald from such torture when he fell ill with schizophrenia.

They tried to provide support and care for him instead of seeking institutional treatment, along with helping other members of the family with similar issues.

It’s understandable for parents like Mimi and Don to have been scared away from these institutions in the 60s because psychiatric treatments going on there were nothing short of shocking.

The Message Of The Galvin Family Tragedy: Violence And Abuse Have Devastating Consequences

Violence was escalating among the ill Galvin siblings, culminating in a tragic event that shook every member of the family.

It started with Donald’s relationship problems with his wife, Jean, and things got worse when one night he followed her out of the house and threatened to kill her.

The next night, Donald tried to dose both himself and Jean with two lethal cyanide tablets.

Luckily, Jean was able to escape and call for help, leading toDonald being committed to a hospital in Pueblo where he was prescribed antidepressants and antipsychotics before arriving home.

For Margaret and Mary, their brother Jim became another source of trauma after they had taken refuge at his home overnight.

Unfortunately, Jim effectively molested Margaret during this time.

When Margaret stopped coming over, Jim then began targeting Mary.

Finally, in 1973 came the tragic event that shocked all members of the family: Brian had died alongside his girlfriend Noni; it is believed that Noni had been shot while Brian’s wound was self-inflicted.

Violence between the ill Galvin siblings led to this heartbreaking tragedy.

Nancy Gary’S Desperate Offer Of Help Changed Everything For The Galvins

In Hidden Valley Road, the Galvin family’s troubles began to spiral out of control as more of the siblings became ill.

Brian, the fifth son, was especially affected and received an antipsychotic called Navene shortly before his death.

His brothers Joe, Mark, Matt and Peter – known as the “hockey brothers,” all suffered similar symptoms with varying severity.

Even though Don had been hospitalized for six months due to a stroke he suffered in June 1975, it wasn’t until December that his wife Mimi finally discussed their struggles with a family friend who could offer support.

The friend Nancy Gary offered Mimi a lifeline in the form of her daughter Margaret.

She provided emotional and moral guidance and reassurance to Mimi: despite everything she was going through with her family, she didn’t have to bear it alone because there were people willing to help her.

Margaret quickly formed a strong bond with Peter and helped him come out of his shell, giving him courage and hope which led him to make a miraculous recovery He is living a full life today thanks in part to Nancy Gary’s willingness to reach out during such tough times when another one of the Galvin’s children had fallen sick.

Mental Illness Often Brings A Sense Of Powerlessness And Hopelessness


By 1982, an unimaginable tragedy had befallen the Galvin family – six of their siblings had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

The youngest was ten-year-old Mary, who watched her thirteen-year-old sister Margaret be driven off to live with the Garys in Denver, feeling helpless and alone.

At the time, no one recognized that Matt would also be struck by this terrible disease when he showed up at the Gary house gifted a vase only to smash it on the floor.

Soon other signs surfaced and he was sent away to Pueblo along with Peter and Donald where they were given drugs that caused severe side effects.

Mary managed to find respite from her hard memories and suffering in a new name when she enrolled as a ninth grade student as Hotchkiss; Lindsay Galvin – after which she never looked back.

One visit

The Galvin Family: A Perfect Study Participant For Understanding The Combination Of Biological And External Factors Behind Schizophrenia

The Galvin family was the ideal subject for researchers investigating the biological nature of schizophrenia in the late 1970s and beyond.

Their diverse makeup offered an objective range of data that couldn’t be attained with any other family.

Richard Wyatt, a neurophysicist with the National Institute of Mental Health, found evidence that those suffering from schizophrenia had far larger amounts of cerebrospinal fluid in their brain ventricles compared to other people – particularly in the regions associated with awareness.

This breakthrough helped shift the focus away from hypothesising about bad parenting as a cause for mental illness, opening up doors for further studies on genetic markers that could create a more complete picture.

That’s why Lynn DeLisi, a psychiatrist who specialised in researching schizophrenia, chose to investigate them when she heard about them through various hospitals and organisations.

She believed that comparing everyone’s DNA would help uncover multiple genetic factors related to schizophrenia that may also be triggered by external influences such as stress or relationship problems.

Thanks to their unique circumstances, merging both biological and environmental factors, The Galvin family provided invaluable information that pushed research forward significantly – making them ever so perfect for researchers looking into schizophrenia’s mysterious past..

The Galvins Made Important Contributions To Schizophrenia Research, From Proving Enlarged Ventricles Are Genetic Abnormalities To Helping Trace The Onset Of The Illness

Thanks to the DNA samples taken from the Galvins, tremendous progress has been made in understanding schizophrenia.

From 1985 to 1986, Lynn DeLisi gathered data from one thousand families and instantly confirmed Richard Wyatt’s research regarding enlarged ventricles.

She even shared the samples with the Coriell Institute for Medical Research so that others could utilize them for researching purposes.

At NIMH, Dr.

Daniel Weinberger published a 1987 paper that offered great insight into this matter as well with his theory of schizophrenia being a gradual developmental disorder where people have genetic abnormalities right away but only develop symptoms once their brain is fully mature.

His bowling analogy illustrates this process by explaining how when the ball leaves your hand it may look like it will move straight down the lane, but as it gets closer to completion its true course becomes visible.

Also at NIMH, Robert Freedman was exploring sensory gating which explains how people with schizophrenia seemingly experience all sensations like it’s the first time they’ve experienced them which can be quite tiring mentally.

All in all, thanks to contributions from organizations like Coriell Institute for Medical Research and NIMH researchers such as Dr.

Weinberger and Robert Freedman utilizing material from the Galvin family, much of what we now know about schizophrenia came about through advancing research initiatives.

The Tragedy Of Unfulfilled Potential: Dr. Freedman Finds The Cause Of Sensory Gating But Cannot Help His Patients

Dr. Freedman

As researchers continued to investigate the biological basis of schizophrenia, data from tests and tissue samples showed that people with the condition have around half the amount of ɑ7 (or alpha-7) receptors that an average person has.

Subsequent investigation revealed it to be a gene called CHRNA7 which is responsible for creating these receptors, as well as an overall lack of acetylcholine, a compound necessary for signalling between neurons.

The hope was that this new information might lead to improvements in medications and treatments but despite getting closer to figuring out the relevant genes involved, scientists were still struggling to implement any changes into existing drugs or therapies.

One drug, DMXBA, showed promise during trials conducted in 2004 – subjects felt more focused and calm while taking it – but unfortunately its lack of a patent meant companies weren’t interested and without taking it three or four times daily it would not work.

Thus doctors treating patients with schizophrenia eventually settled on neuroleptic drugs with potentially harmful side effects due to the lack of viable alternatives for symptom control; furthermore many patients died prematurely due to health complications related to these drugs.

New Sequencing Technology Revealed The Mutation Of A Gene Responsible For Schizophrenia, While Choline Supplements Have Shown Promising Results In Prenatal Studies

The research and dedication to uncovering genetic links in schizophrenia finally paid off in 2009.

This was due in large part to McDonough’s involvement with the biotech company Amgen, as well as the development of new sequencing technology.

After reaching out to DeLisi, McDonough and his team studied the Galvin family DNA and found a shared mutation: each brother had a mutation in the gene known as SHANK2.

This gene encodes proteins that get brain synapses to communicate and help neurons respond quickly.

The discovery of this mutation opened the door for further understanding of how schizophrenia happens and would eventually lead to studies linking it to other mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder and autism.

It also showed that there are various levels of signs released by schizophrenia, rather than just a single set of symptoms; meaning every person diagnosed does not experience exactly the same thing.

It also led to discoveries involving choline supplements which could cause beneficial responses from those exposed prenatally.

In a study done alongside the Food and Drug Administration, children who were given choline supplementsin utero demonstrated fewersensory gating issues, fewer attention problems, and less social withdrawal than a control group without it- representing positive progress toward discovering treatments for those with mental illness.

Generational Hope And Perseverance In The Face Of Adversity


When it comes to the Galvin family, there are two sides to the story.

On one side, some of them remain bitter about the past and their experiences with mental illness and all that came along with it.

On the other hand, there are those who remain hopeful, like Lindsay Galvin, who has stepped up and taken an active role in caring for her siblings and family members.

Lindsay’s resilience is reflected in her commitment to organizing blood drawings from her siblings in 2016.

She sees value in whatever research can happen using samples taken from the family as there have been few new breakthroughs otherwise in antipsychotic medication testing.

Her daughter Kate’s involvement only adds to this hope – when placed as a premed intern at Dr.

Freedman’s lab (the same Dr.

Freedman who had known the Galvin family for decades) at 18 years old, she joked that maybe her parents donated either money or tissue samples – joking or not, she was surrounded by both!

Despite some instances of lingering bitterness, it is clear that overall the Galvin family is resilient and hopeful for what the future may bring based on this legacy of knowledge they have started together.

Wrap Up

The key message of Hidden Valley Road is the incredible story of the Galvin family and their experiences with schizophrenia.

The family, made up of 12 children, six of whom were eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia, were a valuable resource for medical researchers to uncover clues on the genetic mutations that may contribute to mental illness.

Thanks to their DNA, doctors and scientists in the 2000s began to make groundbreaking connections between genetics and mental disorders.

For some members of the Galvin family however, this has been bittersweet given all they had to struggle through while growing up in a large and chaotic household.

Despite it all, their unique situation allowed science to gain remarkable insights into aberrant mental health issues like schizophrenia.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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