A ‘talented and hardworking’ former Chester Hammond School student was admitted to a psychiatric ward by baffled doctors when she was struck down by a potentially fatal brain bug.
Katie Chadwick, 24, who attended the Hoole Bank school as a senior musical theatre performer before leaving in 2010, had contracted encephalitis, which causes inflammation of the brain, and spent 100 days in a coma fighting for her life when experts eventually discovered the cause of her illness.
Doctors had no idea whether or not Katie would survive at one time, but the brave young woman defied the odds to pull through and although she has had to learn to walk and talk again, she is making a steady recovery.
Katie and her family are now raising awareness of the symptoms of the illness, which affects 4,000 people in the UK each year, ahead of World Encephalitis Day which fell on February 22.
Her ordeal began in October 2014 when she started with a headache and sore throat just before heading off to Spain on holiday.
Katie's mum Leisa Chadwick, 49, said: “I just thought she was run down. But when she came home it was apparent she was very unwell. She started saying that the left hand side of her body felt numb and that she had no feeling.
“We’d see movement from her left arm and leg but she’d be convinced she wasn’t moving at all. Soon after she started having bouts of delirium, where she would react to situations totally out of character.”
Katie, from Colne in Lancashire, was seen at two hospitals and placed on a psychiatric ward for a day before her true condition was diagnosed at the Royal Preston Hospital and she was then placed in an induced coma to protect her brain from the epileptic fits she was suffering.
Her family believe opportunities for an earlier diagnosis were missed and as a result have instructed medical negligence lawyers to investigate the care she received.
Leisa said: “She was such an active healthy girl, but she kept being misdiagnosed and all the time she was getting worse.
“At Preston they diagnosed that she was suffering from autoimmune encephalitis. Initially her symptoms were even mistaken for a psychiatric illness and she was placed on a psychiatric ward. They didn’t think she was going to pull through and we had no idea what her condition would be if she did.
“She was very, very poorly, we didn’t think she’d survive.”
After nine months in hospital, Katie needed months of intensive rehabilitation and she now has to learn to do everything all over again, including talking, reading, writing, feeding and dressing herself.
Although she is no longer confined to a wheelchair, she still suffers from mobility problems, struggles to sleep and has lost a significant amount of weight.
She has also been left with cognitive problems, such as difficulties with memory, concentration and ability to focus on one thing at a time.
And as a result of damage to her vocal cords and the physical effects to her body through her illness, Katie is no longer able to sing or perform or play netball and will have to take drugs to control her seizures for the rest of her life.
On a positive note, however, Katie’s friends and family have managed to raise more than £12,000 for the Encephalitis Society, who have supported her throughout her recovery.
A spokesperson for The Hammond School told The Chronicle: “We were very sorry to hear of Katie’s recent illness and would like to wish her a speedy and full recovery. Katie was a very talented, hard working and dedicated student whilst at The Hammond and we sincerely hope that she continues to make good progress toward better health in the future.”