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Smart Living: The monster inside
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Imagine feeling okay one moment and the next thing you know, you wake up in the hospital months later, then you find out you were nearly committed to a mental institution.
That’s exactly what happened to Kiera Echols, all because she literally had a monster growing inside her.
"It’s crazy. It’s very surreal. A lot of times I’m like, 'Did that really happen?'" Echols said.
Echols thought she had the flu, but it got worse. Doctors told her she had meningitis. That’s when the hallucinations began.
"It literally was hell," Chellie Givens, Echols’ mom, said. "She got up and started running through the house screaming, ‘Why can’t anybody hear me?’ And then she was going ‘Oh my God, I’m dead and I’ve died and gone to heaven,’" Givens said.
Echols even imagined being pregnant and delivering her own baby.
"She was sitting there in the chair going, 'Here’s your grandson.' She had the baby," Givens said.
When Echols’ mom took her to the hospital, doctors told her that Echols was schizophrenic and should be institutionalized.
"He said, 'Just put her there and keep her comfortable.' Both my husband and I looked at each other and looked back at him and said, ‘No,’" Givens said.
A second opinion agreed with them. She was taken to the University of Cincinnati. Convinced she was possessed by a demon, Echols begged for an exorcism.
"When she arrived, she was completely detached from all reality," Dr. William Edward Richards, Director of gynecological oncology and advanced pelvic surgery at University Hospital in Cincinnati, said.
Extensive tests came back clear, but doctors at UC had learned about a recently discovered disorder that caused symptoms of psychosis. On a hunch, they gave Echols a spinal tap. Two weeks later, it came back positive.
Echols had anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, which is an autoimmune disorder triggered by a tumor on her ovaries known as a teratoma from the Greek word meaning ‘monster.’
"The tumor that she had, had teeth, bone, hair. (It was) very small. It also had a nervous system structure around it," Dr. Richards said.
Once the body recognizes the teratoma, it creates antibodies to fight it.
"But it can also attack portions of the person’s brain or nervous system, and when that occurs, you can become quite psychotic," Dr. Richards explained.
Echols’ teratoma was only about the size of a fingernail, but once removed...
"Within days her psychosis began to resolve," Dr. Richards said.
Now Echols is back to normal and back in the game and hopes her story will help someone else.
"I think God gave this to me for a reason and I wouldn’t change it," Echols said.
Dr. Richards says millions of women have teratomas that are never symptomatic in this way.
Anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis was first discovered in 2007. Makes you wonder how many women may have been misdiagnosed and unintentionally locked up in years past.