Grace Smolinski, who had been experiencing seizures for several weeks prior to the episode, landed at Lurie Children’s Hospital, where the girl’s speech began to decline.
“Within hours of getting to Lurie, her speech started to decline,” Erin Smolinski, Grace’s mother, told SWNS. “She was a very vocal child and was capable of telling full stories, using full sentences. She went from that to only being able to say syllables. She went from singing whole songs from the movie Moana – to hardly being able to say ‘Moana.’”
Smolinski said her daughter’s condition continued to worsen, and she began experiencing fearful fits and tantrums.
“She seemed to think there was someone else in the room, and she seemed scared of that person,” Smolinski told SWNS. “It was terrifying. I wondered what she was seeing. The nurses told me she was likely having hallucinations.”
Smolinski said her toddler was diagnosed with autoimmune encephalitis. At one point she went into cardiac arrest and landed in the ICU, where she had another massive seizure.
“I just broke down as I watched what felt like 20 people work on her,” she told SWNS. “She was intubated and it was an image I will never forget.”
Autoimmune encephalitis is a group of conditions that occur when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy brain cells, leading to inflammation of the brain, according to the Genetic and Rare Disease Information Center (GARD). Patients may experience neurologic or psychiatric symptoms, including seizures, psychosis, speech issues, panic attacks, fear and others. Treatment may involve intravenous immunosuppressive therapy.
Two weeks later, Grace was able to return home to her parents and two siblings, and was put on a monthly dose of a chemotherapy drug to prevent relapse, SWNS reported. While she needed help with balance and speech at home, she has returned to preschool, and her mom says they haven’t noticed any cognitive issues.
“We feel lucky every day,” she told SWNS.