Nurse's ‘anxiety’ was actually a rare brain bug that left her in a coma

A psychiatric nurse who thought she was suffering with anxiety found out that her panic episodes were actually down to a rare brain bug.

Jenn Wiles, who was studying at the University of Salford at the time, first had a panic attack after going to a concert with friends in May 2017. 

The 24-year-old from Stockton-On-Tees said: ‘I told myself it was nothing, probably caused by having drunk some alcohol, but over the next few months, I started getting panic attacks regularly, as much as once a week.

‘Where I’d always been a positive and jovial person, I realised I’d changed and had started to feel much more anxious all the time.’

After the incident, she became increasingly anxious – but doctors put her condition down to university stress.

However, the following December, the student started feeling odd during one of her pub shifts – she became increasingly dizzy and things began to blur. 

The next thing Jenn remembers is waking up in hospital a month later, after being diagnosed with encephalitis – a potentially fatal inflammation of the brain. 

The condition had put Jenn in a coma for a month, so medics, friends and family had to help her fill in the gaps.

Jenn said: ‘I’d been in a coma all over Christmas and the New Year. The first time doctors attempted to wake me up, I was unresponsive.

‘They told my family I was fighting for my life and may not make the night. We’re a very close family, so it tears me apart to think they’d been told that.’

Doctors told Jenn’s family that even if she did survive the coma, there was a risk she might be severely disabled.

When Jenn initially woke up, she was unable to walk, talk or swallow.

She said: ‘My first memories of that time are still a bit foggy. I was disorientated, and I kept ripping my feeding tube out because it was irritating me.

‘I do remember the first word I said was “bath.” That made everyone cry when they realised I would be able to talk again.’

It was expected that Jenn would stay in hospital for around six months, but her sheer determination meant she was discharged after three – with the help of occupational therapy, speech and language therapy and physiotherapy.

However, the terrifying experience had some psychological repercussions. 

Jenn added: ‘When I came out of hospital, I was scared of my own shadow. I’d lived a life not worrying about anything and if I ever heard about something like this, it was on television and something that happened to other people, not me.

‘I ended up having some counselling to help me come to terms with the shock of it all.’


Jenn is now feeling stronger than ever working as a nurse and living with her boyfriend.

She hopes sharing her story will raise awareness and offer hope to other survivors.

According to the charity Encephalitis Society, the condition – which affects an estimated 6,000 people in the UK every year – can either be caused by an infection or by the immune system attacking the brain in error.

Depending on the individual, symptoms can include a high temperature, neck stiffness, aversion to bright lights, seizures, hallucinations, uncharacteristic behaviour and memory loss.

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