Keely Shaw, 27, was feeling tired and getting a lot of headaches after breaking up with her boyfriend of 11 months. Chalking up her apparent illness to heartbreak, she left her home in Pontefract in the English county of West Yorkshire and went on a day trip to London in November 2013.
“I was planning to see my friend Craig,” she told the Daily Mail. “(My 9-year-old daughter) Grace was staying with my parents.”
“He picked me up from the station and we went to his house. He popped opened a bottle of champagne, started to pour it… But I said no. And I never turned down bubbles. I remember I really didn't feel well.”
Hours later, Shaw collapsed and was rushed to the hospital, where doctors said she had a seizure. Shaw returned to her parent’s home in West Yorkshire, but she suffered seven more seizures that week.
“I started behaving very aggressively and shouting at people,” she said. “I was put in an induced coma.”
Then a blood clot blocked her bowel, which then developed gangrene. Part of her bowel was removed and she was given a colostomy bag. She remembers little of her dramatic health decline.
Shaw was diagnosed with autoimmune encephalitis, also known as anti-NDMA receptor encephalitis. Shaw’s immune system attacked NDMA receptors, which are proteins that control electrical impulses in the brain.
Autoimmune encephalitis may begin with flulike symptoms, but because the disease attacks the brain, it often results in memory loss and erratic behavior. Shaw was treated with the chemotherapy drug cyclophosphamide to kill the antibodies attacking her brain.
In March 2014, four months after collapsing, Shaw was finally discharged. She still takes anti-seizure and steroid medication to stop the swelling in her brain. Although the side effects are difficult to cope with, she remains optimistic.
“My neurologist has said in three years I could be medication-free,” she said, “so fingers crossed.”
Using a colostomy bag has also proven challenging and painful. "It can get you down, it's really painful and it can stop you doing lots of things. There are people who have got them for life and they just get on with it.”
Shaw is grateful for her parents' support and says she's proud of how her daughter has coped with this difficult time. “[Grace] seems to just get on with it. If I'm unwell she makes me a get well card, if I'm tired she just leaves me to it. She took my story in a magazine to show her friends at school, she's dead proud of me.”
Shaw hopes to return to her work as a financial advisor when she’s recovered.