A mom whose family believed she was “possessed by an evil spirit” was actually battling a rare illness with symptoms straight out of “The Exorcist.”
Stephen Gutierrez, 42, became terrified when his wife Lorina Gutierrez, 39, suddenly began “talking gibberish” and convulsing.
Stephen, a truck driver, said his wife’s behavior was so out of character he doused her in holy water, fearing she had been possessed by a demon.
The mom-of-three believed there were cameras in every corner of her home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and yelled about “escape.”
She also became violent for the first time in her life.
Lorina, a state investigator, was admitted to a psychiatric ward in Presbyterian Kaseman Hospital after she became delusional and attempted to punch her husband.
The mom did not respond to treatment and after a week was transferred to a local hospital where doctors discovered her immune system was attacking her brain.
A six-inch-by-six-inch tumor was located on Lorina’s ovary, which horrifyingly had developed its own brain tissue.
The tumor had triggered an autoimmune disease, called Anti-NMDA receptor limbic autoimmune encephalitis, that caused Lorina’s brain to swell.
The symptoms of the extremely rare condition, which occur suddenly, have long been likened to a case of “demonic possession.”
Lorina’s body developed antibodies to attack the tumor, which also seized on her healthy brain tissue.
The mom was left unable to talk, walk or eat independently and had to stay in the hospital for almost two months.
Stephen said: “I was so scared, it was like she was possessed.”
“The night after she came home from the ER we were up the whole night.”
“She couldn’t sleep and she was just talking gibberish. She kept saying ‘We need to get out of here, we need to leave.’”
“She kept getting up and trying to leave the house.”
“The next morning I brought her to her doctor, who asked me had she been drinking or using drugs.”
“The doctors thought it might be depression or a nervous breakdown and I trusted that.”
“During her psychiatric consultation she took a swing at me and we had to hold her down, it was so out of character.”
“It was then she was admitted to the psychiatric hospital.”
“At one point I threw a little bit of holy water on her.”
“Afterwards, my family told me they wouldn’t have been surprised if her head started spinning after I did that.”
Lorina added: “They believed I was having a nervous breakdown even though I didn’t have a history of mental health issues.”
“Over the course of a few days, my husband said my complete attitude changed.”
“I can’t remember this but he said I was getting scared and I was worried there were cameras in the house.”
“I told him we had to unplug them. I kept trying to escape and get out of the house.”
The mom was experiencing six seizures a day as doctors tried to clear her body of the dangerous antibodies using a process called plasmapheresis and heavy steroids.
Lorina said: “During my time in the hospital, I coded blue and they had to resuscitate me.”
“I lost all function, the ability to walk, talk, eat or even go to the restroom by myself.”
“I was a 39-year-old woman wearing adult diapers.”
“Over the course of three months I underwent speech, physical, and occupational therapy but I don’t remember much of it. It’s a blur.”
“Right now I’m in remission but I could relapse at any time. It’s not curable, it’s only treatable.”
“It has impacted my whole life. It’s been a hugely traumatic experience.”
Stephen added: “I feel very lucky to still have my wife, but I worry about her relapsing every second of the day.”
Despite the trauma of her illness, Lorina believes her faith has helped her stay positive.
Lorina and Stephen, who are parents to Jonathan, 25, Matthew, 19 and Alyssa, 16, are now determined to raise awareness about the encephalitis.
“I’m a survivor and I really feel like I can help others with experience and information. I know now that that is my purpose.”
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