Sunday 18 August 2019

Student admitted to psychiatric hospital with depression found to have deadly brain infection


Seriously ill: Hannah Farrell's life hung in the balance after being diagnosed with a brain disorder in August 2017
Seriously ill: Hannah Farrell's life hung in the balance after being diagnosed with a brain disorder in August 2017

Erin Cardiff

A Dublin student who was admitted to a psychiatric hospital after doctors thought she was having a mental breakdown has told how tests revealed she actually had a deadly brain infection.

When 22-year-old Hannah Farrell's behaviour changed dramatically - making her forgetful and causing her to sleep more often - she thought she was burned out after sitting stressful exams, then working in a deli.

Hannah Farrell
Hannah Farrell

But her behaviour grew more and more strange, prompting a diagnosis of depression, which led to her being admitted to a psychiatric hospital in August 2017.

"Deep down, I knew something more sinister was going on," she said.

Piecing together what happened next by speaking to doctors and relatives, Ms Farrell said her speech was slurred and slow and she was growing increasingly forgetful. To this day she has no memory of her grandmother passing away in July 2017.

She has now recovered and is completing a psychology degree at the National College of Ireland.

Ms Farrell has been told that, two days after arriving at the psychiatric hospital, a medic became concerned that her problem was neurological, not psychological. An MRI scan then revealed that she was suffering from encephalitis - a rare but serious inflammation of the brain.

Referred to St Vincent's Hospital, her life hung in the balance as she was pumped full of antibiotics and given 13 different plasma transfusions.

Then, on November 12, 2017, she suddenly "woke up" and began responding to her family after months of being unable to walk or talk.

"I had been almost catatonic," she explained. "I couldn't speak and had lost so much weight. My family had been by my bedside, talking to me throughout, even though I couldn't respond. Then, that November day, my mum said, 'I'm so tired, are you?' and I just replied 'Yes.' It was like I'd suddenly woken up."

According to charity the Encephalitis Society, which has provided support, Ms Farrell had anti-nmda receptor encephalitis, which is caused by the immune system attacking the brain in error, resulting in symptoms of confusion, altered personality, psychosis and hallucinations.

Irish Independent

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