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October 12, 2023

Uncovering a Medical Mystery: When Your Body Attacks Your Brain  

by Brianna Rauchman

Seized by a mystery medical condition, Jill fell into a year-long coma. Fortunately, Santosh Kesari, MD, PhD, adeptly identified the hidden diagnosis responsible for her debilitating symptoms. 

A Descent into Darkness 

Two pictures side by side of Jill before contracting autoimmune disease. One picture of Jill alone and one picture of Jill and her family.
Jill and family prior to her mystery illness

It started with a few haunting whispers that invaded her thoughts. Soon, these auditory hallucinations spiraled into an overwhelming cacophony, dominating every waking moment. A mystery diagnosis swiftly seized control over 22-year-old Jill’s mind.  She recalls, “I started hearing voices, and I broke down and went to my mother…and everything went black.”

Tragically, Jill descended into a comatose state. A year would pass before she would regain consciousness. 

A Puzzling Path to Diagnosis 

Baffled by the nature of Jill’s condition, medical experts admitted her to a psychiatric facility. Eventually, she began experiencing seizures, and she was admitted to a hospital. But even then, the true nature of her illness remained elusive. 

Faced with this nightmarish scenario, Jill’s father took matters into his own hands. He embarked on a quest to find the best possible care for his daughter, which led him to Santosh Kesari, MD, PhD, board-certified neurologist and Co-founder of Pacific Neuroscience Institute® (PNI). 

Dr. Kesari Provides a Beacon of Hope 

Jill in the hospital on a ventilator
Jill in a comatose state at the hopsital

Dr. Kesari’s reputation of research-based clinical care for difficult to diagnose and treat conditions preceded him, and Jill’s father was determined to secure his expertise. He reached out to Dr. Kesari, explaining his daughter’s plight. To his surprise, Dr. Kesari promptly agreed to help his daughter. It was a ray of hope in their darkest hour. 

Dr. Kesari swiftly conducted a battery of tests to uncover the underlying cause of Jill’s mysterious condition. What he discovered was truly astonishing—an antibody in Jill’s blood and spinal fluid attacking her brain and causing rampant inflammation. Dr. Kesari revealed that “this typically occurs with a variety of cancers as well as with some benign tumors.” Now, the race began to find where Jill’s tumor was hiding.

Finding the Hidden Culprit

After conducting further imaging, Dr. Kesari and his team uncovered a tumor in one of Jill’s ovaries. The tumor had incited an adverse autoimmune response, leading to inflammation in her brain. In a bold move to save Jill’s life, the medical team removed the affected ovary, despite her being unresponsive. 

Santosh Kesari in a clean room hood
Santosh Kesari, MD, PhD

Worryingly, Jill remained unconscious after her ovary was removed. This was confusing and repeat testing indicated the presence of antibodies still attacking her brain. After further reasoning, Dr. Kesari surmised that there must still be a tumor in Jill’s body and most likely in the remaining ovary, despite no evidence on imaging. The medical team acted promptly to perform a second operation. 

The results were nothing short of miraculous. Almost immediately after the surgery, there was a noticeable change in Jill’s neurological condition. Day by day, she improved, transitioning from a coma-like state to a gradual return to consciousness. In a matter of weeks, Jill had made a stunning recovery. 

The Power of Dedicated Providers at PNI

Jill smiling after being cured from her autoimmune disease at Pacific Neuroscience Institute
Jill after recovering from her mystery illness

Reflecting on her arduous journey, Jill emphasizes the importance of being heard, especially when facing adversity. She stresses the need for compassionate advocates who truly “hear people’s voices,” and explore every possible avenue for treatment. 

Jill’s story is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the transformative power of dedicated medical professionals like Dr. Kesari. In the pursuit of answers, Jill not only found her voice but also found her way back to a life she thought she had lost forever. 

About Dr. Santosh Kesari

Santosh Kesari, MD, PhD

Neuro-oncologist Dr. Santosh Kesari, MD, PhD, is a board-certified neurologist and is currently Chair and Professor, Department of Translational Neurosciences, Saint John’s Cancer Institute. He is the regional medical director of Providence Southern California’s Research Clinical Institute. Dr. Kesari is also Director of Neuro-oncology at Pacific Neuroscience Institute, Providence Saint John’s Health Center, and Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center Torrance, and leads the Pacific Neuroscience Research Center at Pacific Neuroscience Institute.

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About the Author

Brianna Rauchman

Brianna Rauchman

Brianna Rauchman, BA, is the Communications Coordinator for the Lifestyle Program, where she helps develop outreach strategies to connect with an expanding audience. Her responsibilities include providing launch support, developing content, assisting with collateral design, and planning social media strategies.

Last updated: October 17th, 2023