Select Page
What happens when your autoimmune encephalitis treatments aren’t working?

What happens when your autoimmune encephalitis treatments aren’t working?

April 13, 2022 | By WhereAreMyPillows.com

Message from the IAES Blog Staff: 

We are pleased to share with you that Where Are My Pillows has returned to her blogging game! The post below touches on the shared challenges of autoimmune encephalitis patients who relapse or whose inflammation remains refractory to first- or second-line treatments. Please join us in wishing her full success ahead as she embarks on the next chapter of her healing journey!

—–

This post is part of the recurring #WhereAreMyPillows blog column for the International Autoimmune Encephalitis Society and is adapted from a blog originally published on  www.wherearemypillows.com.

Introduction

Q: What happens when your autoimmune encephalitis treatments aren’t working?

A: You relinquish all unnecessary obligations, neglect your blog, and trade your human friends for Squishmallows who think no less of you for spending hours on end in bed.

wherearemypillows squishmallows 500x500 - What happens when your autoimmune encephalitis treatments aren't working?

Friends who don’t mind doubling as pillows—now those are real keepers.

Joking aside, it’s an exhausting and demoralizing road. While being diagnosed with autoimmune encephalitis (AE) in the first place is scary, failing treatments that normally give people their lives back is despairing. Recognition of the failure is slow. You’re told to hang tight and be patient for the immune system to adjust; but as months pass by without sustained improvements, the feeling that something is wrong begins to take hold.

The following runs through your head: Am I overreacting? Do I have permanent damage? Can this situation be salvaged? Will it be like this forever? Can I just give up and resign from this reality?

Embracing trial and error, and being fed up with the status quo

If you’re lucky, you have a doctor that realizes just how pernicious AE—brain inflammation—can be. More importantly, they realize they have multiple tools at their disposal to treat it and take responsibility for actually wielding them.

This can mean going beyond steroids, beyond IVIG, and sometimes even beyond rituximab (Rituxan). As far as I can tell, the doctors who create the best outcomes for their patients recognize that the amount of medications required is highly individual and that treatment responses are not always trackable via standard tests, especially for complex diseases like AE. And treating AE is ultimately a game of trial and error—part science, part art. The research can only run so deep for a rare disease that just started receiving attention in 2005.

Since I was diagnosed with AE in the summer of 2019, I’ve been put on methylprednisolone (Solu-Medrol), IVIG, Rituxan, plasmapheresis, and tocilizumab (Actemra) at varying doses, intervals, and timeframes. And just recently, I started mycophenolate mofetil (Cellcept) and received an infusion of cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan).

None of these are a surprising choice of therapies; they are all described in the medical literature as appropriate treatment options for autoimmune encephalitis. But what IS surprising to most people is that my doctors are actually:

  1. exercising all these options;
  2. overlapping some of them; and/or
  3. bothering to still treat me at all, given the protracted course of my illness (which began in 2014) and the fact I can still walk and talk.

It should not be surprising, but it is given the current paradigm of (arguably) conservative treatment that the average patient is offered. And sadly, a nontrivial subset of these surprised people are patients/caregivers that are still struggling, face seemingly impossible medical barriers, and rightfully suspect that there could be benefit from further treatment due to signs that their or their loved one’s inflammation is poorly controlled.

It’s heartbreaking to hear these stories and realize how easily I could be circling that drain.

That’s actually why I’m forcing myself to grind through the cognitive fog and write again. Some recent conversations have reminded me of how many people are needlessly struggling with obstacles on their AE journey, ones that can bypass others completely, all because of some stroke of dumb luck such as:

  1. The first doctor that saw the patient in the emergency room performed a spinal tap and believed the issue was neurologic rather than psychiatric.
  2. The patient lives in province/state “X” where a critical medication is on the formulary covered by the government/insurance plan—not province/state “Y” where a critical medication requires special authorization and is typically denied.
  3. The previously seronegative patient turned seropositive during a relapse, suddenly lending credibility to the diagnosis and making treatments more accessible.

wherearemypillows treatment chair 500x375 - What happens when your autoimmune encephalitis treatments aren't working?

While the field of autoimmune neurology is relatively new, it is not so new that one different roll of the dice should be able to dictate the outcome of a patient so profoundly.  It is unsettling how many more junctures my own AE journey could have been derailed at, the above bullet points being just a sampling.

There is clearly a need for greater physician awareness, better standards of care, and shifts to the present paradigm of treatment. And the more that patients/caregivers challenge the status quo, the sooner that change will come.

My goal in speaking out is to help level the playing field for those being caught in the AE quicksand. I’m far from the only person out there who deserves the opportunity to take another shot at permanent recovery. To those that have humbled me by sharing your stories or provided encouragement for me to keep plodding forward, thanks for galvanizing me into ending a four month writing hiatus.

Reexamining the mechanisms underlying autoimmunity

As mentioned above: I recently started Cellcept and Cytoxan in an effort to pull me out of my relapse that began in spring 2021. We had added Actemra to my regimen in July, hoping that would turn things around; but after 5 monthly infusions with transient improvements only and no compounding benefits, my primary neurologist agreed to pull me back into the hospital for plasmapheresis. It had worked beautifully for me in January 2021 and we were hopeful another 5 rounds over 10 days would work the same the second time around.

It turned out to be a bust. I’m glad I went through with it though; otherwise, I would always wonder whether plasmapheresis paired with stronger maintenance therapy would be a viable solution, rather than having to progress to chemotherapy. Again, it goes back to that whole “trial and error” concept. You evaluate the options based on your unique clinical scenario, make a strategic decision, compare the results with existing scientific knowledge, and synthesize all available data to inform your next steps. Along the way, you progressively refine your mental models.

But that’s not the approach you’ll find all doctors using. A few years back, my treatments were stalled by the terribly ignorant no detectable antibody = no autoimmune encephalitis explanation. Somewhere in the middle, it was the poorly reasoned it’s impossible to relapse on Rituxan you probably never had encephalitis but rather just have adult ADHD explanation. And now, several doctors later—and after scoring 2 standard deviations higher on an IQ test as a direct result of plasmapheresis, not psychostimulants used to treat an attention disorder—we’ve landed on an explanation that contains a couple more shreds of logic.

The doctor in charge of my current treatment plan is a neuro-oncologist who, in addition to cancer, treats a number of autoimmune conditions beyond just AE including myasthenia gravis and neuromyelitis optica. He explained to me in simplistic terms that when it comes to autoimmune neurological diseases, he looks at the individual and in broad strokes considers how much of the immune dysfunction is antibody-mediated/humoral vs. how much is cell-mediated. Response to treatment can provide clues.

IVIG, Rituxan, and plasmapheresis are known to be most effective for addressing antibody-mediated autoimmunity; since I’ve had diminishing returns from these treatments over the past few years, he suspects a significant proportion of my autoimmunity is now cell-mediated. This would also fit with the theory that I have GAD65 encephalitis, which is thought to involve a T-cell mediated immune response. While the call is debatable, both him and my other neurologist consider me a true GAD65 positive patient now rather than a seronegative one, as the antibody appeared in my serum and rose in titre on the 3 occasions we checked last year. Either way, my primary doc is confident that it’s time to move on to medications that target both B AND T cells—in my specific case, Cellcept and a Cytoxan.

Now, I am not a medical professional who can responsibly assess the validity of this framework; but this neuro-oncologist is well-respected amongst his peers, and the rationale for his decisions make a hell of a lot more sense to me than the ones provided to me by other doctors in the past.  While Rituxan initially got me back to baseline in 2019 and is a highly effective, permanent solution for many patients, it upsets me when doctors are adamant that Rituxan is a magic bullet for treating AE and that any ongoing symptoms absolutely cannot be due to uncontrolled brain inflammation. Or said a little differently: if your previous AE symptoms return but your CD19 test results are at 0, your AE is well-managed and we’ve finished our job. This hard-and-fast conclusion seems incredibly irresponsible and lazy to me, when even a cursory glance through the medical literature yields hundreds of articles discussing the utility of alternative treatment strategies across a number of AE scenarios.

wherearemypillows treatment 500x375 - What happens when your autoimmune encephalitis treatments aren't working?

Moving forward

The takeaway here is that if you are dealing with ongoing levels of significant dysfunction, experienced a period of relative normalcy followed by a return of disabling symptoms, or your specialist has limited experience with treating AE, there may be further runway to explore.

I say that with a note of caution, being careful to acknowledge not everyone is going to benefit from seeking further treatment and some are already working with wonderful doctors who are truly doing everything they feasibly can. But judging from going through 12 neurologists myself and hearing the experiences of hundreds of patients/caregivers, chances are your doctors may not have painted the full picture of the options out there. There is more to the immune system and the mechanisms underlying autoimmunity than what the average neurologist appreciates.

If you want to explore other options or doctors, take some time to educate yourself first. Otherwise, it’s going to be hard to effectively advocate for yourself or your loved one. Without slogging through research publications, listening to the experts in the field, and/or joining support groups (like the International Autoimmune Encephalitis Society Facebook group to hear from others living with this illness, you tend to reach a ceiling on how far you can get. Alternatively, you might gain reassuring perspectives that help you realize your team of doctors is already handling everything appropriately.

As for me, I’ll be doing my best to keep advocating for AE awareness and better outcomes while I recover in the months ahead. You can also expect to see me popping up more regularly in online support groups and social media—see you over there! 😉

For more insight into what living with autoimmune encephalitis looks like, read more at my blog below or find me on InstagramFacebook, or Twitter.

wherearemypillows bio

WhereAreMyPillows is an autoimmune encephalitis survivor from Canada. Her favourite activities include writing on her health blog, taking photos, doing yoga, and finding her next spot to take a nap. 

Join her on the IAES Facebook group, and on her WhereAreMyPillows Facebook PageInstagram and Twitter #wherearemypillows

 

Click here or the image below to subscribe to our mailing list:

subscribe - Through the Eyes of Mom

Your generous Donations allow IAES to continue our important work and save lives! 

guidestar platinum logo 300x300 1 e1605914935941 - What happens when your autoimmune encephalitis treatments aren't working?

 

 

Become an advocate by sharing your story. It may result in accurate diagnosis for someone suffering right now who is yet to be correctly identified. Submit your story with two photos to IAES@autoimmune-encephalitis.org

 

 

International Autoimmune Encephalitis Society (IAES), home of the AEWarrior®, is the only Family/Patient-centered organization that assists members from getting a diagnosis through to recovery and the many challenges experienced in their journey. Your donations are greatly appreciated and are the direct result of IAES’ ability to develop the first product in the world to address the needs of patients, Autoimmune Encephalitis Trivia Playing Cards. Every dollar raised allows us to raise awareness and personally help Patients, Families, and Caregivers through their Journey with AE to ensure that the best outcomes can be reached. Your contribution to our mission will help save lives and improve the quality of life for those impacted by AE. 

Trivia Playing cards 3 FB 500x419 - What happens when your autoimmune encephalitis treatments aren't working?

For those interested in face masks, clothing, mugs, and other merchandise, check out our AE Warrior Store!  This online shop was born out of the desire for the AE patient to express their personal pride in fighting such a traumatic disease and the natural desire to spread awareness. Join our AE family and help us continue our mission to support patients, families and caregivers while they walk this difficult journey.  

AE Warrior Store 300x200 - What happens when your autoimmune encephalitis treatments aren't working? 

Be a part of the solution by supporting IAES with a donation today.

 

why zebra - Aphasia as a Symptom of Autoimmune Encephalitis

 

 

 

Falling through the looking glass…

Falling through the looking glass…


March 9, 2022 | by Rachael Muggleton

In May of 2020, I was a healthy, vibrant, smart, loving, pre-med student at Penn State, nicknamed the ‘mayor’ of my large friend network … until I fell acutely ill. Within 7 days of hospital admission, for what seemed like some type of stress induced altered mental status, I became catatonic. My mom watched in horror as her daughter’s light rapidly dimmed; losing a piece of what defined me each day. By day 7, I no longer spoke or appeared to recognize anyone, my heart rate became unstable, I could no longer walk or eat, and my kidneys began to fail. I was rushed to the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) with a preliminary diagnosis of Anti-NMDAr Autoimmune Encephalitis (AE) – an illness my family had never heard of, but one unfortunately they would get to know very well over the next six months of my horrific journey. 

IMG 5128 225x300 - Falling through the looking glass...Full disclosure — this part of my story comes from my mom; I don’t remember anything from my admission until fuzzy memories of my time in inpatient rehab 5 months later. By the time I reached URMC I was catatonic, seizures were starting to take over. My mother described the surreal experience as ‘seeing our beautiful Rachie rapidly falling through the AE ‘looking glass’ – a tumbling, bouncing, free fall which lasted for days, weeks, eventually resulting with me being placed on life support for months’. 

Timing is everything, right?! It was during COVID lockdown, visitation was not allowed. My family was no longer able to be by my side. For 42 days, physicians and nurses cared for me while in a medically induced coma; trying to quell the relentless seizures. My mom sat on the virtual sidelines, distraught, making decisions regarding PIC lines, arterial lines, sedation, feeding tubes and a tracheostomy – decisions she never imagined she’d be making for her child, who outside of a tonsillectomy, was the picture of health. Without the communication, compassion, trust and love I received from the URMC team, my mother said she wasn’t so sure she would have been able to get through those first 42 days. They were her eyes, ears, and most importantly, heart. 

IMG 5127 225x300 - Falling through the looking glass...When restrictions finally lifted and my parents were able to be by my side, they witnessed firsthand what a cruel, relentless illness AE was. There is no official playbook. My mom, a person who prefers order and predictability, was at a loss watching the team trying to control an illness that twisted and turned, never letting up. AE laughed at us and didn’t care how desperately we wanted it to release its grip. During this acute phase, one of my Neuro-intensivists explained his view on Anti-NMDAr AE (after treating a handful of cases each year) to my mom – ‘It comes out of nowhere, attacks HARD, stays as long as it pleases, eventually leaves, rarely returns. Our job is to treat Rachael with what we know works and keep her alive until it leaves”, and they did just that. I received steroids, plasma pheresis, IVIG, Rituxan and when things still seemed to be stalled, Cytoxan. I was also placed on a strict KETO diet, which in some pediatric patients has been proven effective in reducing/eliminating certain type of seizure activity. 

By mid-August of 2020, my mom tells me, “Our ‘Alice’ ended her free fall and SLOWLY started to reemerge!”. Day by day, small pieces of me started coming back. Eventually, the ICU staff took me out to the children’s garden at URMC (safety protocols in place (!)) to see my brother Andrew for the first time in 4 months (pictured)! 

My family and team celebrated each breath on my own, swallow of water, baby step, new word, and smile! When it was finally time to leave my nurturing Neuro-ICU ‘nest’, the team through me a dance party — sending me off to inpatient rehab in style! Since I have no memory of that time, I’m thankful it was recorded! Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake it Up’ will forever rock as my survival song 😊! 

IMG 5135 300x225 - Falling through the looking glass...

My dance party send off!

I was released from the hospital in October 2020, just short of 6 months. While my journey was far from over, I was on my way! I still needed to be weaned (carefully) from 8 different anti-seizure medications, regain my cognitive functions and physical strength and dexterity. Through the work of an amazing rehab team and sheer determination, I made my way back. By the summer of 2021, I was taking college calculus II and preparing for my college return in the fall. 

IMG 4404 225x300 - Falling through the looking glass...But here’s the best part of my story! In December 2021, I spent a week in the URMC Neuro-ICU, only this time NOT as a patient but rather to shadow the amazing physicians, nurses and professionals to learn firsthand the world of intensive care neurology. As a result of this shadowing, I’m sure they hope I choose Neurology as my specialty (maybe?!), but FAR more was gained from this experience! Rarely do providers, nurses, and staff get to see the results of their amazing efforts, and a recovered AE patient rarely gets to come back to see their heroes in action — Life came full circle. 

I finished my fall semester (Deans List!) and as I write this, and I’ve returned for my final semester at Penn State. I’ll begin studying for the MCATS with the goal of medical school in 2023 (maybe URMC?  😊). Autoimmune Encephalitis was a cruel thief who tried to steal me and subsequently a year of my life, but as the Mad Hatter said to Alice, ‘If you knew time as well as I do, you wouldn’t talk about wasting it’. I’m not about to waste it!! 

My mom reminds me often; I have a story to tell! I think it’s a story of a young woman falling through the looking glass — finding beauty, love, compassion, and competence all along her journey. However, her name isn’t Alice, it’s Rachael. 

Never. Lose. Hope ❤️. 

IMG 5129 300x225 - Falling through the looking glass...

August 2021, me, mom, and stepsister Kaitlyn 

 

Click here or the image below to subscribe to our mailing list :

subscribe - Falling through the looking glass...

Your generous Donations allow IAES to continue our important work and save lives! 

guidestar platinum logo 300x300 1 e1605914935941 - Falling through the looking glass...

Become an Advocate by sharing your story. It may result in accurate diagnosis for someone suffering right now who is yet to be correctly identified. Submit your story with two photos to IAES@autoimmune-encephalitis.org

 

 

International Autoimmune Encephalitis Society (IAES), home of the AEWarrior®, is the only Family/Patient-centered organization that assists members from getting a diagnosis through to recovery and the many challenges experienced in their journey. Your donations are greatly appreciated and are the direct result of IAES’ ability to develop the first product in the world to address the needs of patients, Autoimmune Encephalitis Trivia Playing Cards. Every dollar raised allows us to raise awareness and personally help Patients, Families, and Caregivers through their Journey with AE to ensure that the best outcomes can be reached. Your contribution to our mission will help save lives and improve the quality of life for those impacted by AE. 

Trivia Playing cards 3 FB 500x419 - Falling through the looking glass...

For those interested in face masks, clothing, mugs, and other merchandise, check out our AE Warrior Store!  This online shop was born out of the desire for the AE patient to express their personal pride in fighting such a traumatic disease and the natural desire to spread awareness. Join our AE family and help us continue our mission to support patients, families and caregivers while they walk this difficult journey.  

AE Warrior Store 300x200 - Falling through the looking glass... 

Be a part of the solution by supporting IAES with a donation today.

 

why zebra - Aphasia as a Symptom of Autoimmune Encephalitis

 

 

 

Our website is not a substitute for independent professional medical advice. Nothing contained on our website is intended to be used as medical advice. No content is intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice. Although THE INTERNATIONAL AUTOIMMUNE ENCEPHALITIS SOCIETY  provides a great deal of information about AUTOIMMUNE ENCEPHALITIS, all content is provided for informational purposes only. The International Autoimmune Encephalitis Society  cannot provide medical advice.


International Autoimmune Encephalitis Society is a charitable non-profit 501(c)(3) organization founded in 2016 by Tabitha Andrews Orth, Gene Desotell and Anji Hogan-Fesler. Tax ID# 81-3752344. Donations raised directly supports research, patients, families and caregivers impacted by autoimmune encephalitis and to educating healthcare communities around the world. Financial statement will be made available upon request.

CONTACT US


352-527-2470

IAES@AUTOIMMUNE-ENCEPHALITIS.ORG

Autoimmune Encephalitis Trivia Playing Cards

Translate »