June 23, 2022 | By Reyna Felix
Introduction from the IAES Blog Team:
It is with great pleasure that IAES presents the story of one of our mighty Warriors. Reyna Felix, in her own words, explains the events that finally lead to her diagnosis during the beginning of a worldwide pandemic that left her alone without family and friends by her side at the very beginning of her AE journey. Her story was picked up by a few TV news channels and lead to an article written about her struggles in the Barrow Neurological Foundation newsletter. The link to this article is below. The Barrow Neurological Foundation strives to advance neurological research, patient care and provide education to help save lives.
My name is Reyna and I am 29 years old. I have been married for 5 years (together for 11), I have worked as a 911 dispatcher for the past 7 years, and I am a dog mom to a fun rescue pup. I love to read, hike, exercise, travel, cook, and learn new things.
I am also a survivor of anti-NMDA receptor Autoimmune Encephalitis. Like most patients, my diagnosis was not easily found. The search for what was wrong with me included weeks of struggle for myself and my family. As you’ll read about in the article, I was dismissed from hospitals or left against medical advice. I spent time in a psychiatric facility, and eventually was correctly diagnosed and began the treatment process which led into the recovery process I am now in. I am missing many months of life from my memory, which is a common symptom of this disease. I received my diagnosis in April 2020 which was at the same time as a pandemic began around the world. This compounded the struggles experienced by my husband and family. Hospitals had restrictions on people accompanying patients in emergency rooms, ICUs, rehabilitation facilities, etc. and I was in no condition to be responsible for myself during the worst of my symptoms. There was about a 40-day period where my husband couldn’t be with me in person which increased the emotional stress of my condition for him. A teratoma was located and removed, I received a few IVIG treatments, and then I received two weeks’ worth of everyday Plasmapheresis which significantly improved my condition. It was during this time that I began to “wake up.” I spent two weeks becoming more alert, learning how to eat on my own, write, speak, walk, etc. during inpatient neurological rehab. I was discharged to return home with restrictions such as 24/7 supervision and outpatient therapies such as speech, physical, and occupational therapy that continued for 3 months. In June 2020, I started rituximab treatments that I continue to receive twice a year.
I continue to work on my mental and physical health, and I receive testing to ensure I am doing well by my doctors such as neuropsychological tests and cancer screenings. In September 2020, a local news channel picked up my story and did a short interview about Autoimmune Encephalitis which led to another news channel completing a story on me for my first World Encephalitis Day in February 2021. My neurologist shared with me that these two stories were shared amongst other doctors and hospitals and contributed to more awareness and for clinical studies needing to take place. More studies and awareness for this condition means that, someday, people will be diagnosed and treated properly which will lead to better outcomes for more people. I am not someone who enjoys attention. I used to keep my life private but all I hope for from opening up about my experience is to help others get proper treatment, raise awareness for medical professionals and other people to understand more about the disease, and to show other patients and families that successful recovery is possible.
Autoimmune Encephalitis came into my life swiftly and had the potential to destroy it, but it has not won. My life looks differently now but I am alive. I have bad days and good days, but life is full of ups and downs that we can move forward through. While a lot of our symptoms and experiences can be similar, I think it’s important to remember that we are each individual so it’s also good to remind yourself to not compare your own personal progress and recovery to other patients.
To all my fellow warriors, we’ve got this. You are loved, you are strong, and you deserve to be happy and alive. To all our caregivers, families, friends, medical professionals, etc., thank you for what you do to help us each day. Additionally, I hold those who have passed from Autoimmune Encephalitis and their families close in my heart.
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My daughter is going through this at this time. It is very hard. She is now in the ICU.