Select Page
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



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




KETO Diet: What is it? Who is it for? And why?

KETO Diet: What is it? Who is it for? And why?

Keto Diet Blog FB post - KETO Diet: What is it? Who is it for? And why?January-28-2020 | Daria Muir, M.D.

It is important that we all stay well informed. When a person receives a diagnosis of autoimmune encephalitis, they want to do whatever they can to improve their health. Some will reach for what appears to them to be a positive action and decide to change their diet. This can have very negative unintended consequences. To ensure your safety, and in IAES’ commitment to providing accurate information to assist you in being well informed on your road to recovery, today I’m going to give you a simple explanation about the Keto Diet.

What is it?


KETO is a diet that excludes carbohydrates completely. Basically, you eat just proteins and fats. Carbohydrates are the main fuel generator for the body (and especially the brain). They transform into glucose (the fuel). By switching to the KETO diet, one leaves the body without the fuel source. So, the body learns to turn other stuff into fuel. In this case, mainly fat. But also, the muscles. That’s what we call “putting the body into a state ok Ketosis). Is this good? Is it bad? For some people it is good. For some it is bad. For some it is an unnecessary risk, meaning there is no proof whatsoever that it helps, but there is proof that it can do some damage.

Who is a candidate for the Keto Diet?


Keto diet is recommended in a small number of diseases:

– severe Epilepsy, irresponsive to golden standard medication (being more efficient in children);

– Glucose Transporter Type 1 Deficiency Syndrome (a genetical disease that does not allow the body to produce GluT1 , so the brain does not get glucose- fuel. The ONLY treatment in this situation is keto diet!);

– it is also used by some nutritionists with patients that need to lose weight.

!!!! It needs to be assessed, recommended and monitored by a doctor!!!


There is no proof that the KETO Diet works in Autoimmune Encephalitis. (It can be recommended in severe Epilepsy post-Acquired Brain Injury in AE, but it does not treat AE, it treats the Epilepsy resulted from a brain injury from AE. As you know by now, Epilepsy and Seizures are not the same things. In AE we may have seizures, due to brain swelling and antibodies attacking our healthy brain cell. This is why we need immunosuppressant/ immunomodulatory treatment to control the disease.

Epilepsy is a disease resulted from the brain being injured and scarred.

Epilepsy can happen in AE but having seizures does not mean you have Epilepsy! Your doctor needs to asses that and tell you that you acquired Epilepsy!

Why? And why not the KETO Diet?


Now that you understand who an appropriate candidate for the Keto Diet would be, let’s discuss what can happen if you try the diet on your own without discussing it with your doctor.

Why does the Keto Diet need to be recommended by your doctor and monitored all the time?


Because it can be dangerous! Yes, it can be.

For diabetics. Also, people with kidney disease or who take medication that increases the risk of Kidney disease. For example, It can lead to major weight loss, below the normal BMI, that can endanger hormonal balance. It can increase pressure on the liver and kidney and eventually eats up your muscles too. The body can enter into ketosis (dangerous for some people).

KETO Diet is not easy, not harmless, not for anybody and not proven effective in AE.


Your doctor needs to assess and recommend that for you or for your child because it can be dangerous and can cause harm. If you have the conditions stated at point 2, then you might benefit from a very well supervised KETO Diet. Always ask your doctor! And please, don’t recommend it to other people, because it can harm them! Our concern is your safety and sharing accurate information for your best overall health.


Ketogenic Diet and Epilepsy: What We Know So Far

Ketogenic Diet in Patients with GLUT1 Deficiency Syndrome 

Ketogenic Diet 


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


seal - KETO Diet: What is it? Who is it for? And why?


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



why zebra - KETO Diet: What is it? Who is it for? And why?

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.

Translate »