Kertease Williams’ daughter, Kertisha Brabson, had been stricken with a baffling condition. Doctor after doctor told this mother her child was braindead and would not wake up from her coma. For seven months, she was told to pull the plug. But that’s when the medical mystery took a sudden turn that no one saw coming.
A Seemingly Normal Life
In 2018, Kertisha “Tisha” Brabson was living what most would consider to be a normal life. She had two young children, a daughter named Diamonique and a son named Perez. Her family lived in Alliance, Ohio, not far from her mother, Kertease Williams. For Tisha, it was important to live near her mother, as the two enjoyed a close relationship.
For Tisha and Kertease, life could not be better. But the world that they had taken years to build for themselves would suddenly change in a matter of days, and soon Tisha would fall victim to a medical mystery that would stump even the best doctors around.
Something Is Seriously Wrong
The beginning of Tisha’s medical mystery started to rear its head in small ways, through little signs that Tisha chose to keep to herself. According to Tisha, at age 31 she started feeling the slightest bit sick, but continued to work. She quietly began struggling with severe anxiety, an ailment that she had never experienced before.
Tisha tried to ignore the signs and continue her daily routine as usual, but there was a nagging voice inside of her that told her something was off. “I just didn’t know what was going on inside of my body,” she said. “I just knew something was wrong, I just didn’t exactly know what was wrong.”
The Call That Changed Everything
For Tisha’s mother Kertease, it was just another regular day in September. She had no idea that it was about to be an event she would never forget, because her entire world would change with just one phone call. A friend of Tisha’s was on the other line, concerned and saying that Tisha was acting strangely.
According to the friend, Tisha had been doing concerning things all day. She kept reaching for objects as if they were in front of her, but there was nothing there. She started talking nonsensically about things people could not understand, and danced “as if she were at a rock concert.” Something was definitely not right.
Rushing To The Hospital
When Tisha herself was asked what had gone on that day, she claims that she had no idea whatsoever. “I don’t remember anything,” she admitted. But immediately after hearing the news, Tisha’s mother was dashing off to the hospital to find out what was happening with her daughter.
At the hospital, Kertease met with her daughter and the friend who had called earlier. Upon hearing about Tisha’s strange behavior, the doctors were equally stumped. With no diagnosis, they nonetheless immediately admitted Tisha to the hospital in order to keep her under observation. And as she was monitored by the watchful eyes of medical professionals, Tisha’s illness began taking an even more startling turn.
The Downward Spiral
When Tisha was first admitted to the hospital, she had been acting strangely. But not much time had passed before things got progressively worse. The doctors were closely monitoring the situation, and Kertease was trying to remain optimistic, but seeing her daughter’s condition was heartbreaking, especially not knowing exactly what was going on inside of her daughter’s body.
According to Kertease, she remembers thinking to herself “something has taken over and is brewing in my daughter, I just don’t know what.” As it turned out, Kertease was right: there was much more going on than met the eye, and it was about to take a sharp turn for the worse.
Falling Into A Coma
Tisha’s illness did not show any signs of getting better. In fact, in the short amount of time that she had been in the hospital, her health appeared to be getting progressively more unstable. “It was crazy because her body was deteriorating right in front of your eyes,” her mother said.
“That’s your child, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it, and that was really heartbreaking,” she rued. Then, suddenly, Tisha had a massive seizure that would send her into a coma. The grim shift sent Kertease into a panic. And then finally the doctors came back with a horrible diagnosis.
A Deadly Diagnosis
By the time that Tisha had fallen into a coma, her doctors were fairly positive that they had some grasp of what was happening. And the diagnosis was not good. The doctors told Kertease that her daughter was suffering from an illness called anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis.
The diagnosis basically meant that Tisha’s body was fighting off its own brain cells. In severe cases, a person with this illness experiences delusion and hallucinations. But Tisha was experiencing even more striking symptoms, and the doctors were not exactly sure what, if anything, they could do to stop the disease from progressing. After discussing Tisha’s future, they came back with a heartbreaking recommendation.
Pulling The Plug
Days passed by that turned into months as Tisha laid in a coma at the hospital. “I don’t have no doctor’s background, never been to school for anything, but when it’s your child you’re going to do everything in your power to bring your daughter back,” Kertease declared.
But some things were far beyond her own power to fight. Tisha was not getting any better as days dragged on. After months, the doctors came to update Kertease with even more bad news. Tisha was braindead, they informed her. It was time to consider taking her off of the ventilator and pulling the plug. Kertease could scarcely believe it had come to this, but she knew what she had to do.
Getting A Second and Third Opinion
“Doctors said ‘pull the plug,’ ‘she’s braindead,’ things like that,” Kertease later recalled. “I wouldn’t do it.” Instead, Kertease decided to move her daughter to another hospital. One medical professional after another continued to give the desperate mother a series of dire diagnoses, but she was not going to stop fighting.
“We were just going to keep moving her because once I saw the doctors scratching their heads, that clearly let me know they gave up on her and they don’t know what’s going on,” Kertease reasoned. She would not accept that she would have to let her daughter go, and hoped that someone out there could help Tisha. And then, at long last, came a spark of hope.
Finally Finding An Alternative
It had been three months since Tisha had suffered from the seizure that sent her into a coma, and three months since Kertease had received any good news at all about her daughter’s condition and possibilities for the future. But that did not stop this mother’s determination to seek out hope.
“Every decision that I made was because she’s got two little people that were depending on their mother to come home, and those were her kids,” she said. With her grandchildren in mind, she brought Tisha to the Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. And while doctors said they could help treat Tisha, they revealed that something even more startling and puzzling was happening.
Another Medical Mystery Reveals Itself
Kertease was introduced to Dr. Shraddha Mainali, who specialized in stroke and neurological clinical care at Wexner’s Brain and Spine Hospital. But even this professional was baffled by Tisha’s medical condition. According to her analysis, Tisha was experiencing sometimes upwards of 20 seizures in one day.
Kertease had thought she had heard it all by now, and that she was aware of just how dire her daughter’s situation had become. But this new information shook her to her core. Once again, she was given more news indicating she may well lose her daughter. “I was asking God ‘just give me a sign, tell me what to do, please don’t tell me I’m about to lose my baby,'” she said.
Coming Up With A New Plan
Dr. Mainali knew that the diagnosis was potentially grim. “In someone like her condition there is a mortality rate above 60 percent,” she explained as she stood by Tisha’s hospital bed. But she told Kertease that she had a plan. It was nonetheless important for Kertease to know that it would be a long and difficult journey for Tisha and her entire family.
The treatment plan would be grueling. Dr. Mainali and her team put Tisha on a new regime of more aggressive medications to treat both Tisha’s disease and the seizures, while closely monitoring for any progress. The new treatment might not work, Dr. Mainali warned, but she was hopeful. Still, no one could have imagined what happened next.
The New Treatment Plan
Everything for Kertease seemed to have been happening all at once — and then suddenly, not at all. It had been three months since her daughter had fallen into a coma, and the new treatment plan from a new hospital was exactly the boost of hope that she needed. But then, just as quickly as everything seemed to progress, there was no update.
Tisha was still in a coma, and it had been four long months since the treatment plan began. The doctors were urging the anxious mother to be patient, but it had been seven months since Kertease had seen her daughter awake. And then, once again, a phone call changed everything.
Out Of The Coma
Kertease will never forget the date and time. It was 5:10 in the morning on April 7, 2019. She had her home phone’s ringtone volume turned on extra loud those days so that she would not miss a thing, so the early morning call woke her up from bed.
On the other line, she heard a recognizable voice, one of the doctors on Dr. Mainali’s team. Kertease was hoping for good news, unable to allow herself to think of the alternative. And then, “he said ‘well, she’s woke up,'” Kertease said. “Oh my goodness, we jumped up and down and screamed and nobody slept that morning.” But what exactly had happened?
Rushing To The Hospital
By time time Kertease had received the good news, Dr. Mainali was already on her way to the hospital. She explained: “One of my residents who was on call at night texted me in the morning and says ‘you won’t believe what I saw today,’ and I was like ‘what happened?’ and she said ‘Tisha is opening her eyes and she’s following simple commands.'”
After four long months of waiting during the treatment regimen, the news was nothing sort of miraculous. Dr. Mainali was emotional recalling the case even months after she had received the phone call, not only because of the medical marvel, but because of the heartbreaking news that had to come next.
A Whole New World
Waking up from a coma is always seen as a joyous occasion, but no one ever talks about having to break the news to the person that they had missed out on a chunk of their lives as they lay asleep at the hospital. Tisha had no idea what day it was or about the medical mystery that landed her in the hospital.
The nurse came into the room and “she was like ‘yeah, Ms. Brabson, you’ve been asleep for seven months,'” Tisha recalled. “I was shocked and just appalled that I literally had been asleep since seven months and then I just woke up out of nowhere.” She had only one question at the time.
“Does My Mom Know?”
Upon hearing the news that she had been in a coma for the last seven months, Tisha had one question on the top of her mind. “I was like, ‘does my mom know?'” she remembers asking the nurses. They laughed, and let her know that in fact her mother and her maternal commitment to saving her daughter was probably the reason she was alive.
Kertease was, meanwhile, on her way to the hospital. As she rode over, she was overwhelmed with emotion and excitement about seeing her daughter alive and responsive. After months of being told to pull the plug, and that her daughter’s life was over, it finally felt like all of her wild efforts were vindicated. But their reunion would not be what this mother had imagined.
Getting Used To A New Normal
Kertease had been taking care of her daughter’s children for seven months, and had grown accustomed to this new normal. But just because her daughter was awake did not mean that the world could go back to how it had been seven months ago. When Kertease arrived at the hospital, her own daughter did not even recognize her.
“She said ‘you’re not my mother,'” Kertease recalled. She was overjoyed to have her daughter awake, but devastated to realize the scope of the long road to recovery that was still yet to come. And it would be months of hard work before Tisha would before the family could return to any semblance of normalcy. There was more yet to be accomplished.
A Whole New Life
From April until August of 2019, Tisha remained in the hospital. She was closely monitored by a dedicated team of doctors and nurses, and her brain fully recovered from the disease that had put her into a seven months-long coma. At the end of summer, Tisha was finally given the go-ahead to be released from the hospital and returned to her home.
Despite her patient having fallen into a coma and suffering from upwards of 20 seizures a day, Dr. Mainali said that she has an optimistic outlook. “I am quite hopeful in her case that she’s going to continue to do well and hopefully live a normal life,” she said in a television interview. But for Tisha, things will never be normal again.
The Girl Who Lived
Even as Tisha is back at home with her two children and almost fully recovered, she knows that things just are not the same, and cannot be. She knows that she “should not” be alive, and frankly, according to statistics “it’s a miracle that I’m here,” she said. But her recovery has given her a new outlook on life.
The first holidays that Tisha got to spend at home felt even more festive. Tisha says that she owes her life to the team of doctors who treated her, and, most importantly, to her mother, who continued to fight for her daughter’s life even when everyone around her kept telling her she had already lost the battle.
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