Coma patient gets fresh start for the new year

One local woman is getting a brand new start this new year after spending years fighting a debilitating disease.

Laura Prichard is a former college athlete and was working as a senior art director at an advertising agency in Chicago.

One day in 2016, she says while sitting down to eat her hand went numb. Then, the feeling started spreading through the left side of her body. She tried dialing 911.

"My brain wasn’t computing what numbers I needed to dial,” says Prichard. "By the time I had reached through, my speech was slurred and they couldn’t understand me.”

She was able to tell the operator she lived near Wrigley Field. First responders found her outside her home.

“I’m curled up in a ball in front of my apartment complex sobbing,” she says.

She was taken to a community hospital where she was misdiagnosed with an overactive thyroid, but later, she started having seizures.

She went to Northwestern Medicine in Chicago for a second opinion. There, doctors diagnosed her with autoimmune encephalitis. Many patients don’t survive the disease, and Laura’s condition was getting worse.

"There are a number of proteins generated from your immune system that start attacking your brain,” says Laura’s medical neurologist Dr. Farzaneh Sorond.

"Her brain was continuously seizing. We put her on a number of different seizure medications, and essentially when none of them were working to sort of calm her brain down, we put her in an induced coma,” explains Dr. Sorond.

Laura was in that coma for four weeks while her family was told to prepare for the worse, but she woke up to continue her fight against the disease.

“When I woke up I could only move my eyes. That was the excitement of the day, ‘she moved her eyes today’,” says Prichard.

Then from blinking to talking, then walking, Laura was soon relearning from the same level as her five-year-old niece.

"She and I were doing the same little workbook, and I was like ‘what did you get?” laughs Prichard.

She moved back to The Woodlands with her family and continued rehab.

"It killed me having to rely and be dependent on people,” she says.

"I was this independent woman living in the city, and I did everything on my own, so that was really hard, probably the hardest thing.”

In December, she was cleared to live independently and moved into her own apartment.

Now with her dog, Wrigley, a nod to past times, she’s starting the new year in a new home of her own.