News, The Walking Dead, TV Shows

Rare Disease Left Woman Believing She Was Fighting Zombies in a Real ‘Walking Dead’

A scene from The Walking Dead (AMC)

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A rare disease caused a woman to believe The Walking Dead was real and she was fighting zombies in real life. The medical mystery was one of the chapters featured in a new book about what happens when brains start to malfunction. 

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She Thought The Walking Dead Was Real

The medical mystery was part of a series of stories featured in the anthology, A Molecule Away from Madness, by Sara Manning Peskin. (The book can be purchased on Amazon here.)

Lauren Kane had been binge walking a lot of The Walking Dead one summer (and who can blame her?), when she started feeling feverish and unsteady on her feet, Insider reported. She almost fell down the stairs, frightening her mom so much that she took her to the ER. Once there, she quickly began believing she was living the world of The Walking Dead.

Kane had led quite an accomplished life prior to this spring 2016 incident, Psychology Today reported.  She had just graduated from college and was applying for graduate school with a creative writing focus. She was living with her mom before starting grad school when the illness hit her. When her mom first took her to the hospital and a doctor was asking her basic questions, she grabbed his shirt, pushed him across the room, and then pushed her mom to the floor. Security guards rushed at her and she yelled that the guards were walkers. 

One of the security guards realized that Kane thought she was living The Walking Dead, Psychology Today reported.

After she was admitted to the hospital, she sometimes thought she was fighting zombies and sometimes just acted aggressively without any provocation, Insider reported. Psychology Today provided more details, explaining that she often mistook friends, family, and even hospital staff for characters on The Walking Dead. She’d have moments of lucidity and then get confused all over again. Her mom even labeled one recorded conversation: “Feeding Time; Zombie Apocalypse.” 

Psychology Today reported that when her mom asked if she wanted more melons, Kane said she needed to find supplies because of the zombie apocalypse. She even called her mom “Rick.”

Kane’s mom was first to realize it might be an autoimmune issue causing her daughter’s problems, Psychology Today reported. The doctors didn’t really buy it, though, so she requested to have her daughter moved to a larger hospital. 

Once there, doctors determined that her mom was right. Kane’s body was fighting a non-cancerous tumor in her ovary, and the resultant antibodies were causing the issue, Insider reported. Fascinatingly, the antibodies her body was creating were the same shape as PCP molecules, which caused them to bind with receptors in her brain in the same way that PCP does.

So why did the antibodies match a receptor in her brain? Because, Insider reported, the tumor they were fighting had cells that were highly similar to neurons’ NMDA receptors. This caused the antibodies to bind to receptors in the same way PCP does, which leads to people having trouble distinguishing reality from fiction.

Who knows how different her hallucinations would have been if she had been binge-watching a different series. If she was binge-watching Attack on Titan, would she have hallucinated giant Titans attacking her home? Whatever the case, the disease is quite serious and can progress to a severe and life-threatening case if the cause is not identified.  

She Had Anti-NMDA Encephalitis

The technical name of the disease state that caused her body to react this way is “anti-NMDA encephalitis,” Insider reported. She was given immunosuppressants and her tumor was removed, which caused her symptoms to subside. However, Insider reported that one-in-five people who have this end up experiencing relapses. 

Quite a few studies have been written about Anti-NMDA Encephalitis. According to the Perelman School of Medicine, it was first identified in 2007 and is technically an autoimmune disease. Patients tend to rapidly progress to needing hospitalization, and symptoms can include memory problems, cognition issues, paranoia, hallucinations, aggression, losing consciousness, seizures, having abnormal body movements, and more. Recovery tends to be slow and a full recovery can take as long as two years. 

The exact type of hallucinations can vary. A case study in Drugs Context from 2019 described a woman who was hyper-religious while in the emergency room, eventually becoming paranoid that a coworker put some type of “root” on her. She eventually became completely nonverbal and only rarely even made eye contact. It took her more than five months to get close to where she was before she got sick. 

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    Stephanie Dwilson started Post Apocalyptic Media with her husband Derek. She's a licensed attorney and has a master's in science and technology journalism. You can reach her at [email protected].

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