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In March 2018, we received a phone call that was to change our lives forever. my cousin, Fran, had been rushed into hospital in Ashford, Kent, having a massive seizure. En route to the hospital from our home in Felpham, West Sussex, her fiance Stacey called us to say that she was in a coma, on life support and to go straight to the Intensive Care Dept.
The doctors and nursing staff were doing all they could for her and were treating her for suspected meningitis but all the tests were coming back negative, it was then that possible encephalitis was mentioned but again tests proved negative. After a week, she was brought off of the ventilator and out of the coma but it was immediately obvious that there was still something very wrong with her, she would have constant seizures and didn't seem to know any of us. She was assessed by the neurologists who decided that she should be transferred to the ITU at the Kent & Canterbury Hospital as they have a specialised neurology department. Thankfully one of the neurologists, Dr Flores, recognised that she was suffering from Autoimmune Encephalitis, her own immune system was attacking her brain, and put her on a plasma transfusion for 5 days. Her blood was taken from her body via two large tubes in her neck, the plasma was filtered out of it and new plasma added before being returned to her body.
Thankfully this saved her life and she was transferred to a neurology ward where she had to learn to walk and talk again but unfortunately the majority of her memories had disappeared. She couldn't remember names, faces or events from her past, didn't believe that her name was Fran and wanted to be called Dora!!
After spending 5 weeks in hospital she was allowed home to continue her recovery, although she still suffered seizures on a daily basis and her memory is still bad. She says its like shes got dementia, she has to take her phone with her when she walks the dog so that she can google map her way back home but she's a fighter as she has proved.
Prior to being taken ill Fran was an extremely bright, funny, clever girl who had spent 6 years studying Marine Biology and gaining her BSc degree and a 1st in her Masters degree in Sustainable Aquaculture. She landed her dream job in January, working for the Whitstable Oyster Company, which unfortunately she has had to give up due to her illness. She doesn't remember going to Uni and even though she has been back to Plymouth to try and jog her memory, she still has very little recollection of her time there.
This awful condition can attack anybody at any time and needs more awareness and research so that others don't suffer the way she has. There are several strains to her condition that have been recognised but unfortunately Fran being Fran has a completely new one. We don't know what the future holds for her or indeed for any of us but we will carry on fighting and if we can raise awareness to help just one person, then we'll be happy.
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Chiara Hickson started crowdfunding