JACKSON TWP. Susannah Cahalan's parents, at one point, were actually told their daughter's brain was on fire.
Cahalan's journey began at age 24 when she began acting unlike herself, eventually having seizures, hallucinations, not eating and not sleeping. After going through every test known to the doctors, she was said to be a healthy, normal, 24 year young woman.
At the time, Cahalan, who was a guest of Kent State at Stark's Featured Speakers Series on Feb. 15, was a journalist working at the New York Post. She spoke about some of the stories was given to cover for the Post early on such as which neighborhood has the most dog "do do." At this point in her life, she had a boyfriend, Stephen, who is now her husband, and life was on track. Then, one day, she woke up in a strange hospital room, strapped down and under guard with no recollection as to what had happened.
What she remembers leading up to that time was the feeling that she had bed bugs. She could see bites, but no one else could. She even brought in an exterminator, who also couldn't find anything in her apartment. Cahalan also began showing up late to work (which was uncommon) and sitting quietly and not speaking during meetings.
The last thing she remembers, before waking up in the hospital, was watching "Spain On The Road."
Cahalan's New York bestselling book, "My Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness" takes readers through her struggle of finding out what was causing her to not be herself. She does not recall anything during that time. During her talk, she played videos of her in the hospital and recordings of Stephen and family members telling her about what had gone on.
Cahalan spoke about how she could recall hallucinating that her father was beating her step mother and that she was going to be next. She was going to jump out the window to escape it. However, there was a statue of Buddha by the door and for some reason, she stopped.
When doctors told her that she was a healthy 24 year old, she accused her mother of hiring actors to play all the parts at the hospital to tell her that.
It was a time that no one knew what was going on; but something was. Finally, a doctor, the one Cahalan refers to as a nice Dr. House (Dr. Souhel Najjar) did a brain biopsy and came up with a diagnosis of Anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis - her brain was on fire - and her body was attacking her brain.
Her treatment in 2009 consisted of steroids and donor antibodies. Today, it is often treated with chemo therapy.
Cahalan was the 217th person diagnosed in the world with the disease that was first diagnosed in 2005 and named in 2009. Since sharing her story of her month of madness, thousands more have been diagnosed with this auto immune disease and have been spared the anguish and cost of misdiagnosis.
Cahalan said the people at the Post were wonderful to her. They left her desk just like it was and saved her spot on the paper. She continues to work there today. She has appeared several times on NBC's Today Show and her new book will be out in 2018.
John Quinones, a ABC News correspondent and host of the TV show "What will you Do?" will speak on "Words of Wisdom About Doing the Right Thing" The event begins at 7:30 p.m. April 19. It is free to the public, however, tickets are needed and can be picked up at the KSU Stark Main Hall information desk beginning March 27. For more information, visit www.kent.edu/stark/featured-speakers-series.