Panola College Grad Publishes Book to Raise Awareness for Rare Illness
December 31, 2012 - When Becky Dunlap graduated from Panola College in 1990, writing a book seemed like a far-fetched dream. However, after suffering a brain injury in 2008, the Longview native channeled her energy into documenting her story to raise awareness about an illness that affects 20,000 Americans each year called encephalitis, inflammation of the brain.
“Since it took me 27 months to get accurately diagnosed, I felt compelled to write my story in hopes that others may not have to suffer the same long journey for answers,” said Becky Dunlap Dennis, now a Plano, TX, resident. “Since West Nile hit an epidemic level this year, this has drawn a lot of attention to my book because the neuro-invasive type of West Nile is identical to the medical challenges I suffered, such as short-term memory loss, lack of concentration and aphasia. A lot of people are using the book to better understand the impact to the patient.”
Dennis’ book, named “Brain Wreck,” climbed to the No. 4 ranking worldwide on Amazon’s best seller list in ebooks for the medical category within a month of its release. Many survivors of neurological issues receive too little information and support in dealing with their changes, leaving them isolated in their newfound experience. Dennis hopes that her documented experience will help others feel validated and expedite their recovery from related issues.
“I can vouch for the need to raise awareness about encephalitis,” said Dr. David Witt of the Diagnostic Clinic of Longview, who has treated encephalitis. “Encephalitis is often misdiagnosed as stroke, MS, flu or complex migraine. Doctors need to consider this diagnosis early in the process, especially if caused by the herpes virus, which most adults carry in their systems. And although uncommon for herpes to break the blood-brain barrier, it’s one of the few forms of encephalitis that can be treated. And if those patients don’t receive treatment, 80 percent die within the first week of onset.”
Encephalitis can be caused by a variety of sources other than herpes or mosquitoes, however, 2012 marked a spike in mosquito-borne illness, with more than 240 deaths nationally — about a third of them in Texas. Gregg County saw 13 West Nile neuro-invasive disease cases and 16 West Nile fever cases.
Encephalitis most commonly produces flu-like symptoms at the onset, such as headache, fever and fatigue. However, more severe cases can resemble a stroke, producing symptoms including confusion, hallucination, memory loss, seizure, personality changes and even coma. A February 2012 report titled “I’m Not the Me I Remember: Fighting Encephalitis” is available online and documents the ravages of encephalitis.
Since publishing “Brain Wreck,” Dennis is gearing up for speaking engagements to better inform the public on encephalitis, including its causes, symptoms, treatments and therapies. Dennis joined the board of directors for Encephalitis Global, Inc. (E Global), a non-profit organization that raises awareness of the causes and effects of encephalitis, a year ago. E Global leverages the experience from leading encephalitis experts at The Mayo Clinic, The Johns Hopkins Encephalitis Center, the California Department of Public Health, the National Institute for Health and the Encephalitis Society of Great Britain. It also sponsors a discussion forum on Inspire.com with more than 2,100 members across the globe affected by encephalitis and West Nile.
“Our organization hosts meetings for people affected by the residuals of encephalitis to help survivors and their loved ones learn new coping mechanisms and therapies that might improve their recovery,” said Dennis. “We hosted a meeting in Plano in August, during the peak of the West Nile season, to help those suffering from the cruel nature of this illness. We were fortunate to have leading medical experts on West Nile speak at our event and it felt great to know that my survival might help someone else. If I improve lives through my own experience, then my life has purpose.”
For more information about “Brain Wreck,” visit www.bdbrainwreck.com. The book is available in all formats, including paperback, Kindle and Nook and soon to be in iTunes.