At just 31 years old, Kertisha Brabson contracted a mysterious illness that left her in a coma. At first, no doctor could diagnose the illness, leading her and her family down a medical rabbit hole. Here's her story.
No One Saw It Coming
Living with two young children in Alliance, Ohio, Kertisha “Tisha” Brabson was leading a completely normal life as a single mother, raising her children with the help of her mother Kertease. But in 2018, disaster struck.
As a result, the four members of the family were left in a devastating position. Unfortunately, Tisha had become sick with a strange illness that no doctor could properly diagnose. It only continued to worsen over time, leaving her mother and children devastated.
How It All Began
One day, out of nowhere, 31-year old Tisha began to feel somewhat sick at work. It didn’t feel serious enough to tell anyone, so she kept it to herself. Little did she know that the symptoms were going to worsen and would become much worse than she could have ever anticipated.
Within the week, Tisha began experiencing severe bouts of anxiety that left her shaken and panicky. She had never had any significant issues with anxiety, so needless to say, this was concerning. It was around that time that it dawned on her: something serious was happening.
One Fateful Day
"I just didn’t know what was going on inside of my body," she reflected later. "I just knew something was wrong, I just didn't exactly know what was wrong." Her instincts were flaring up, but before she had the chance to contact a doctor, all of her health issues came to a head.
One fine September day, Tisha’s mother Kertease picked up her ringing phone to hear a worried voice on the other end. It was a friend of her daughter's, with some shocking news: Tisha had been hospitalized. She grabbed some things and flew out the door to see her daughter.
Later on, the friend recalled what had happened on that fateful day. Apparently, Tisha had begun exhibiting strange behavior out of nowhere, which left her friend confused and concerned. She was having conversations with herself and reaching out in front of her to grab thin air as if she could see something her friend couldn’t.
The final straw occurred when Tisha stood up and began moving and dancing "as if she were at a rock concert," refusing to respond to her worried companion. Deeply shaken by her bizarre movements, the friend drove her to the nearest hospital, where she hoped they would help her snap out of this trance-like state.
A Mystery Emerges
While she did return to normal, this didn't soothe the doctor's concerns. When questioned about the strange events of that afternoon, a confused Tisha told doctors, "I don't remember anything." In her eyes, nothing had happened - and she couldn't understand why her friend, mother, and multiple doctors were worried about her.
After a few hours of questions and tests, the doctors observing Tisha held a meeting about the young woman’s condition. The results were not good - not a single one of them could identify or diagnose what had caused her strange outburst or the symptoms she had been experiencing prior to that day.
Something Was Brewing
Naturally, Tisha was required to stay at the hospital, so doctors had the chance to observe her and hopefully get to the bottom of her mystery illness. But to the dismay of the hospital staff, the woman's condition rapidly took a turn for the worst, with still no indication as to why these things were happening.
Kertease was beside herself, watching Tisha grow sicker and sicker while receiving no answers that could alleviate her fears. "Something has taken over and is brewing in my daughter, I just don't know what," Kertease remembered thinking as she watched nurses and doctors poke and prod at Tisha. As it turned out, she was right.
Within a few days of being admitted to the hospital, Kertisha’s health had plummeted. In seemingly no time at all she had gone from being a healthy, normal adult with no obvious medical problems to an incredibly ill woman. And what was worse is that no one knew why.
Kertease and her two grandchildren were by her bedside the whole time, watching in horror. "It was crazy because her body was deteriorating right in front of your eyes," Kertease shared. "That's your child, and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it, and that was really heartbreaking."
The Worst News Yet
Tragically, for her mother and Perez and Diamonique (her two children), their heartbreak was only just beginning. With no warning at all the ailing Tisha was suddenly struck by a serious seizure, while hospital staff tried to contain and resuscitate her.
This was unexpected enough, but no one could have guessed what happened next: Tisha fell into a coma as a result of the seizure. Kertease was left distraught, with two grandchildren to look after and no idea what was happening to her daughter. But that was about to change.
An Alarming Diagnosis
From the moment Tisha had been admitted to the hospital on that first strange day, her doctors had taken on the task of finding a diagnosis - something was attacking Tisha’s brain and body, and they could not treat her effectively until they knew what that thing was. And by the time of her coma, they believed they had an answer.
The new diagnosis came in, and the doctors informed Kertease that the cause was likely to be anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. When this neurological disease takes hold, the victim's brain cells begin to turn on their body, which would explain Tisha's previous hallucinations.
Another Step Down
It should have been a relief to hear that they finally had a cause for Tisha’s terrible condition, but it was far from it. Kertease’s daughter didn’t just have anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. She also had an extremely rare and severe case of the disease.
And the truth was that none of the staff had the necessary background or experience to treat such a serious condition, leaving an unconscious Tisha in a very tenuous situation. The symptoms of the disease were constantly getting worse, and the doctors gave Kertease one final piece of advice - to cut off Tisha’s life support.
The Hardest Decision Yet
The advice horrified Kertease, and she waved it away immediately. "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," she later said. There had to be another way.
So the hospital kept Tisha on life support, and her mother watched as months went by and nothing changed. By the time there was any noticeable shift, it was the worst news yet: Tisha had been declared officially braindead. In the eyes of the hospital staff, there was truly nothing more they could do.
Standing Her Ground
They tried one more time to convince Kertease. There was nothing more that would help her daughter, and in these situations, they had to advise loved ones to “pull the plug.” The longer things went on, the more hopeless the case seemed. But Kertease stood her ground.
"Doctors said 'pull the plug,' 'she's braindead,' things like that," Kertease said. "I wouldn't do it." Her mother's instinct told her that this wasn't the way things were supposed to end. There had to be another way, she just had to figure out what it was.
Finding Another Option
The only thing for Kertease to do next was to find a new hospital. The first set of doctors may not have known how to treat her daughter, but there had to be someone out there who did. Unfortunately, she was faced with another group of perplexed medical professionals who gave the same diagnosis.
Where others would have given up, this only strengthened Kertease's belief that these doctors could not give her daughter the right treatment. "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," she said.
The Next Step
It seemed that everywhere she looked, people were telling Kertease to give up. After three months of being in a coma, there were no signs of improvement, and the situation seemed more and more hopeless every day. Doctors everywhere gave her the same advice, and it would have been understandable if she had taken it.
But Tisha's family wasn't about to give up that easily. "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," Kertease said stoically. There was one more option left, and she was ready to take it.
New Prospects For Tisha
It was around that time that Kertease reached out to Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center, where she had been told she might find answers about her daughter's mysterious condition. After looking over the case, the Wexner staff agreed to monitor and treat Tisha.
And for the first time since that debilitating seizure, there were doctors that seemed optimistic about the mother-of-twos condition. They set to work analyzing their unusual new patient for any sign of what had caused all of these problems. But soon enough, they made a troubling new discovery.
More Bad News
Enter Dr. Shraddha Mainali, one of the top staff working at Wexner's Brain and Spine Hospital, where Tisha was being treated. She was an expert in stroke and neurological clinical care and had made a frightening observation while studying Tisha's brain activity.
She broke the news to the distressed mother in front of her. According to her analysis, Tisha was experiencing seizures every day - as many as 20 in a 24-hour period. Kertease was beside herself. "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 recalled.
There Was Still Hope
Dr. Mainali didn't beat around the bush, telling Kertease that "In someone like her's condition there is a mortality rate above 60 percent." The odds weren't great, but those statistics meant that Tisha did indeed have a shot at survival. And the doctor soon shared her suggested next steps.
The staff at Wexner's Brain and Spine Hospital were working on a new plan of action. A new round of treatment involved aggressive medications and more frequent and close observation during the day. It wasn't going to be easy for Tisha's family, but it was the only hope they seemingly had.
Starting On A New Journey
After three months of frantic research and moving from hospital to hospital, Tisha's family could do nothing but wait as the Wexner staff began implementing her new treatment program. As far as Kartease was concerned, her daughter's fate was now out of her hands.
They continued treating Tisha and analyzing her brain activity to see if her condition was improving or if indeed, anything had changed at all. For four months there were little to no changes, much to her mother's distress. She was inconsolable up until the day she received an unforgettable phone call.
The News That Changed Everything
By now, unexpected phone calls were understandably stressful for Kartease. So when she awoke to her phone ringing at 5:10 am, April 7, 2019, the older woman was understandably confused and more than a little concerned. Still, she picked up as fast as she could.
She heard the voice of one of the doctors from Wexner's Brain and Spine Hospital. Immediately Kartease was on high alert, expecting the worst. Why else call so early in the morning? What could they possibly have to say? "He said, 'Well, she woke up,'" Kartease remembered.
She Woke Up
"Oh my goodness, we jumped up and down and screamed, and nobody slept that morning," Kartease recalled of the morning as she woke up her grandchildren and headed to the hospital. At Wexner Hospital, staff were also stunned by the sudden good news, and Dr. Mainali remembers that morning fondly.
"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,'" she recalled. After four months, they'd finally had a major breakthrough. There was still hope.
Back Down To Earth
After the euphoria and celebrations subsided, the hospital staff soon realized they had a considerable task to undertake. Their patient had spent seven months in a coma, completely ignorant to the chaos and stress going on around her unconscious body. How would they go about filling in the blanks?
According to Tisha, they did it quickly and bluntly. "The nurse came into the room, and "she was like, 'Yeah, Ms. Brabson, you've been asleep for seven months,'" she said." I was shocked and just appalled that I literally had been asleep for seven months, and then I just woke up out of nowhere."
She Had Questions
"I was like, 'Does my mom know?'" Tisha said, remembering some of the first things that crossed her mind after waking up. That was when she found out that not only did her mother know that she had been in a coma, but if it wasn't for Kertease, she might have never woken up.
They told her she was well aware and that her mother was heading for the hospital at that very moment. After 7 months of struggling to save her daughter, the idea that she was wide awake in Wexler hospital seemed hard to believe. But what was even harder to believe was what happened next.
“You’re Not My Mother”
Kertease could scarcely contain her emotions as she pulled up to the hospital parking lot, thinking about her child and grandchildren and the months of stress leading up to that moment. Finally, she could breathe a sigh of relief. At least that’s what she thought.
Whatever she was expecting upon walking in and seeing her daughter for the first time, it probably wasn't what happened next. "She said, 'You're not my mother,'" Kertease recalled. As it turned out, her memory still hadn't recovered fully from the coma and frequent seizures. It was going to be a long road ahead.
Back to Reality
For another four months, Tisha stayed at the Wexner Medical Centre, being carefully treated and monitored by the staff there. She couldn’t leave until her doctors were absolutely sure she could return to a (somewhat) normal life without concern of relapse.
Finally, in August 2019, after almost a year in hospital beds, Tisha returned home. "I am quite hopeful in her case that she's going to continue to do well and hopefully live a normal life," Dr. Mainali later told interviewers in the wake of Tisha's miraculous story. But after everything that happened, what would 'normal' look like?
A New Lease On Life
It was hard to say. But after a year of chaos and uncertainty, one thing was clear - Kertisha Brabson was grateful to be alive and well, speeding toward a full recovery and finally able to hug and kiss her two children again. "It's a miracle that I'm here," she later said.
She was thankful for everything - her children, the doctors who helped to treat her, and most of all… her mother. Kertease had stood by her side and fought for her life - against all the odds. Looking back on this incredible story, the unbreakable duo is living proof that there is nothing quite like a mother’s love.