In A Case Worthy Of ‘House,’ Mom Was Put In Coma Five Months Until Diagnosis


Posted on 8th November 2010 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Doctors put Donna Landrigan in a coma for five months as they struggled to find out what was wrong with her.

Landrigan’s tale was chronicled by AOL Health, kicking off with the painful headaches that the mother of three, then 35, was suffering from for almost a month until she finally collapsed on her kitchen floor.

But as Landrigan’s case demonstrated, diagnosing a brain malady can play out like an episode of “House.” Physicians for months were stymied and couldn’t determine exactly what was wrong with Landrigan’s brain. Ultimately, she received treatments at four hospitals in several different states.

Doctors initially thought that Landrigan has encephalitis, or swelling of the brain due to infection. But tests came back negative. Then physicians believed that the young mother had nonconvulsive status epilepticus, which entails seizures and kills more than half the people who have it. But that diagnosis didn’t pan out.

At that point, doctors put Landrigan into a coma using propofol, the powerful anesthetic that killed pop superstar Michael Jackson. They did it because they feared that her brain could not continue to withstand the seizures she was having. Later, doctors put Landrigan into an even deeper coma using pentobarbital.

 The woman’s condition worsened, and doctors then went on to a new diagnosis: That one of Landrigan’s own antibodies was injuring her brain. 

That, it turns out, was the answer. Landrigan had anti-NMDA receptor antibodies, which can attack brain nerve cells, according to AOL Health. These antibodies typically appear when someone has a teratoma, which is a kind of tumor that people get in the ovaries or testes. 

Doctors removed Landrigan’s ovaries and fallopians tubes, and discovered that she did in fact have a benign teratoma. Her diagnosis was anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. Landrigan was then slowly brought out of her induced coma.

Although her seizures ended once her tumor was removed, Landrigan is not back to her old self. A year after being taken out of her coma, the mother, now 36, remains in a wheelchair and has nerve damage, according to AOL Health. She still expects to walk one day.       





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