• By Susan Barber Lindquist

Mayo Clinic lights Plummer Building red for World Encephalitis Day

February 22, 2017

Plummer building lit with red lightsROCHESTER, Minn. — In February 2014, Christa Thesing of Andover, Minnesota, stopped sleeping and started hallucinating. Her worried family took her to the hospital. Her initial diagnosis was possible bipolar disorder, a psychiatric illness.

Her condition worsened. Thesing was confused and losing the ability to walk, talk and eat. Two days later, Thesing was transferred to Mayo Clinic, where doctors diagnosed her with anti-N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor encephalitis, a form of autoimmune encephalitis.

World Encephalitis Day is Wednesday, Feb. 22. In recognition, Mayo Clinic will light its Plummer Building, a National Historic Landmark, red after sunset at 5:49 p.m. CST. The Illuminating Encephalitis campaign will light landmarks including Niagara Falls, the fountains at Trafalgar Square in London, Sydney Town Hall in Australia, and the Peace Bridge linking the U.S. with Canada.

“Encephalitis can be deadly, and survivors often face brain injury and a long rehabilitation, making return to school or work difficult,” says Mayo Clinic neurologist Michel Toledano, M.D. “More awareness of the disease is needed by the public and health care providers.”

MEDIA CONTACT: Susan Barber Lindquist, Mayo Clinic Public Affairs, 507-284-5005, newsbureau@mayo.edu.

Encephalitis affects nearly 500,000 people of all ages worldwide each year, according to The Encephalitis Society. Encephalitis can be caused by a brain infection or the immune system attacking the brain, called autoimmune encephalitis. Symptoms may include:

  • Confusion
  • Double vision
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Headache
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Loss of sensation or paralysis in face or body
  • Problems with speech or hearing
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting

“If left untreated, encephalitis can wreak havoc on a patient’s memory, personality and emotional stability,” Dr. Toledano says. “Establishing the diagnosis and identifying the underlying cause, whether infectious or autoimmune, helps guide treatment and greatly improves the chances of recovery.”

Getting the correct diagnosis and treatment is only half of the story. Even those who recover from the initial illness often struggle with language impairment, memory difficulties and personality changes.

Friends and family may find it difficult to understand what is going on with their loved ones. “Barely anyone has heard of encephalitis. The lack of a shared narrative can be isolating,” Dr. Toledano says.

For Thesing, the past three years have been a journey toward recovery. She spent nearly three weeks in intensive care and a month at Mayo Clinic’s inpatient rehabilitation facility in physical, occupational and speech therapy. When she returned home, Thesing continued outpatient rehabilitation for about 10 months.

Photo of Christa Thesing

“I’m so lucky I have the family I do,” says Thesing, who has resumed her real estate career and is grateful for supportive co-workers. “I’m still asking questions as I’m learning more about the disease. Almost a year of my life is missing.”

Of her time at Mayo Clinic, Thesing says: “I was where I needed to be. They knew right away what to do.”

Mayo Clinic in 2006 created the nation’s first autoimmune neurology clinic specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of encephalitis. Mayo Clinic’s Clinical Neuroimmunology Laboratory tests more than 150,000 patients annually for antibodies targeting the nervous system.

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About Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit organization committed to clinical practice, education and research, providing expert, whole-person care to everyone who needs healing. For more information, visit mayoclinic.org/about-mayo-clinic or newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org.

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