A patient is hospitalized connected to a saturation meter (Photo: ShutterStock)
A woman who had been in a catatonic state for more than two decades stunned doctors when she woke up after being treated with an anti-lupus drug. At the age of 21, April Borrell experienced a traumatic event and developed a subsequent psychosis, which caused her visual and auditory hallucinations. The young woman, whose story was published in The Washington Post, studied accounting at Eastern Maryland University, was unable to communicate, bathe or take care of herself in 1995 — and for more than 20 years, she could not recognize her family and loved ones.
Burrell was diagnosed with a severe form of schizophrenia, which can drastically impair patients' behavior and perception of reality, and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in New York City.
Catatonia is a complex motor neuropsychiatric syndrome that disrupts a person's awareness of the world around him - the patient is awake but does not seem to respond to other people and their environment, the Royal College of Psychiatrists explains.
Not talking or eating and just staring into space
The main symptoms include sitting very quietly and staring into space, unusual postures that would normally be uncomfortable, repeating the same movements for a long time, expressionless countenance, not speaking, eating or drinking.
Catatonia can have several causes, but the exact reason for its appearance is unclear, and more research is needed in this area.
She was given a cure for lupus that took her out of the condition. Infusion(Photo: ShutterStock)
Sander Marx, director of psychiatry at Columbia University, was a medical student when he first met Borrell in April 2000. She was the first person he ever saw as a patient, and to this day, the doctor says she is the sickest patient he has ever met, reports The Washington Post.
In 2018, nearly two decades later, Dr. Marks and his colleagues discovered that although April's condition was indistinguishable from schizophrenia, she also had lupus, a long-term autoimmune disease that attacked her brain. After months of lupus immunotherapy and multiple tests, the woman finally woke up in 2020.
She was then considered mentally fit to be released from the psychiatric hospital where she had lived for almost 20 years, and moved to a rehabilitation center. But due to COVID-<> restrictions, her family could not visit her immediately and their face-to-face meeting was postponed until last year.
Her brother Guy Burrell, who visited in April with his wife and children, said the patient looked like a "whole new person" but at the same time, she "knew all of us" and had memories of their childhood. He said: "She hugged me, she held my hand. We were so happy, because we'd never seen her like that, ever. It was like she was coming home. We never thought it was possible."