Model’s traumatic stay in psych ward after her brain disease is misdiagnosed

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Lucy Dawson survived a rare brain disease that left her disabled and now she's using her story to inspire others.  (Photo: Instagram)
Lucy Dawson survived a rare brain disease that left her disabled and now she's using her story to inspire others. (Photo: Instagram)

It started with a headache that just wouldn’t go away – and within a week, Lucy Dawson’s life had totally unravelled.   

“I went from being bubbly, lively and social to being completely depressed and crying all the time,” the British model recalls of the traumatic time in 2016.

She should have been on top of the world as she prepared to celebrate her 21st birthday but instead Lucy was in the depths of despair and couldn’t understand why.

Her erratic behaviour escalated to the point where she tried to jump out of her parents’ moving car as they were taking her to hospital in Lincoln, England, determined to get her help.

“From the outside, I looked as if I was having a psychotic episode,” she says.

And that’s why she ended up being committed to a psychiatric facility for three months. But while she was undergoing treatment her condition worsened.

“I was extremely ill and having hallucinations, and then parts of my body and my brain started shutting down,” she says.

As a final resort, doctors recommended electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) – this is a treatment in which an electric shock is administered to the brain while the patient is under anaesthesia.

After one of these treatments, Lucy was left unsupervised and had a seizure, falling out of her bed and landing on a boiling hot radiator pipe. As a result of the ECT she was catatonic and couldn’t move so she suffered extensive third-degree burns.

The radiator also damaged her sciatic nerve, paralysing her left leg.

When her parents visited the ward and found her screaming in pain they were told it was a symptom of her breakdown.

It was only in 2017, a few months after Lucy had been discharged from the facility, that she saw a neurologist who ran tests and discovered what she was actually suffering from was autoimmune encephalitis – a rare disorder that causes brain inflammation because of an infection.

Encephalitis is caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking the brain or by a viral infection which can lead to destroyed or damaged neurons – and if left untreated can cause death.

READ MORE | 'I've learnt to adapt': woman's rare skin condition affects her life in every way

“They call it friendly fire because your immune system identifies antibodies and healthy cells in the brain as being bad and attacks them,” Lucy says.

She was showing all the classic symptoms: personality change, disorientation and irregular behaviour.

“My speech was ruinous,” Lucy says. “Sentences would just not form. I’d forget so many words. I was really slow. I was asleep for pretty much the entire day for a long time.”

Her doctor initially thought her paralysed leg was another symptom of the condition and it was only later discovered that this problem had been caused by the radiator accident.

“I had to learn everything again from scratch, learn to talk again, learn to walk again. I couldn't read or write and I was absolutely devastated,” says Lucy, who wears a splint on her leg and walks with a cane.

Despite making a good recovery, she still has days when she suffers from brain fog and feels exhausted. Yet she managed to complete a degree in criminology at the University of Leicester.

Five years down the line she still has lots of questions about what happened to her and is angry about how she could have been misdiagnosed. That’s why she’s telling her story in the hope it will inspire others.

As an aspiring model she also aims to raise the profile of people with disabilities through her modelling campaigns and the pictures she shares on Instagram.

The thing she hates most is how people often infantilise those with disabilities.

“I have a friend who has spinal muscular atrophy, so she uses a ventilator and a wheelchair. If she posts a really good photo, the comments will always be, ‘Aaah, so cute!’ No, not cute! She looks hot. Just because she’s disabled doesn’t mean you have to treat her like a child.”

It's for this reason she doesn’t think twice about sharing pictures of herself posing in lingerie.

“Disabled and sexy aren't two mutually exclusive terms,” she says. “But you very rarely see any disabled people in fashion campaigns let alone lingerie campaigns, so that's something we need to keep working towards.”

Sources: Metro, Instagram, BBC, Daily Star,


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