Juliana, 19 years old, Miami, Florida

Miami, Florida

It all started in the first week of my freshman year in high school when I was only 14 years old. I began to get very anxious all the time, I would have fuzzy thoughts and I was not able to concentrate during class. I thought this was all part of the nerve-wreck of starting high school, so I never saw it as anything more. My friends kept telling me that I was very distant and acting strange, but I was in denial. On August 26, 2014, my life changed forever. That day after school I went home and sat in the dining table as my mom began to talk to me, she too thought I looked a bit off so she asked me if I was okay. Suddenly I began to mumble and all my words were slurred, my eyes rolled back and I just stopped talking altogether. Next thing I knew, I was in an ambulance on my way to Jackson Hospital in Miami, Florida. All I remember was taking various exams (MRIS, spine fluid drain, and more) because no one knew what was wrong. Every exam kept coming back negative so they took me to a room and told me to wait for more results. It is all a blur from there. I do not remember the following 3 months of that year.

According to my family, some of my doctors thought I sought psychiatric help because I was hallucinating and had many side-effects of a lunatic. It took my doctors 2 whole weeks to diagnose me with ANTI-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis. Before they diagnosed me, they tried some treatments, like filtering my blood with IVC; but I only continued to get worse so they placed me in the ICU. Once they knew exactly what I had, I was given strong treatments like Steroids, Plasma Exchange (plasmapheresis), Intravenous immunoglobulin (IvIg).

During the first month, I would have these involuntary body spasms and crazy hallucinations that they even had to tie me to the bed, with 5 nurses holding me down. My life was at stake, they even had to give me a feeding tube that I kept trying to pull out every night. After 2.5 long months in the ICU, I was finally released and sent home. The road to recovery was a slow one, I had to regain all my mental and physical abilities through intense therapy. What I learned from this tragedy is that we should never ever give up.

During the whole journey I knew feeling bad for myself was not, and will never be an option, it also taught me that we can achieve anything we desire as long as we put our minds to it. I was able to return to high school in February 2015, and before I knew it I was back to my old self. Currently, I am healthy and I am studying at the University of Florida, which I never knew I would end up making it this far. I’m putting this out here because I want those who are going through something similar to know that they are not alone. To all the families who have had a loss or who have witnessed the tragedy as mine did, I truly admire you and your strength. If you have come this far, never lose sight of what’s most important, the miracle of waking up every day healthy & alive!!! God Bless xx