Catatonic Person Wakes Up after 20 Years, Giving Hope to Many Others

Catatonic Person Wakes Up after 20 Years, Giving Hope to Many Others

After getting specific therapies for an autoimmune condition that was damaging her brain, a person who had been catatonic for more than 20 years was able to regain consciousness.

At age 21, April Burrell, a previous straight-A student in accounting, began experiencing psychosis.

She was later diagnosed with severe schizophrenia.

She was unable to converse or care for herself for years since she was confined to her mind.

A new study, however, raises the possibility that a fraction of psychiatric patients may have an autoimmune disorder that mimics schizophrenia and results in incorrect diagnoses and unsuccessful therapies.

In 2018, Sander Markx, the Columbia University director of precision psychiatry, and his colleagues unearthed April Burrell’s case, which marked the beginning of the incredible narrative of her awakening.

They discovered that April also had lupus, an autoimmune disease, despite the fact that her symptoms were quite similar to those of schizophrenia.

Further research found that she was being attacked by antibodies produced by her immune system, namely in the temporal lobes, which are linked to schizophrenia and psychosis.

The traditional understanding of April’s disease was put to the test by this finding, which also made it unclear how many other patients could have had false diagnoses.

An interdisciplinary team of specialists was created by the medical staff at Columbia University to investigate the relationship between autoimmune illnesses and mental problems. The outcomes were astonishing.

They discovered over 200 autoimmune disease patients who had spent years in institutions because of psychological problems.

The findings imply that autoimmune and inflammatory processes might be more common than previously thought in a variety of psychiatric disorders.

This study’s ramifications go beyond April Burrell’s specific situation. Researchers have created new pathways for treating and caring for people with severe mental problems by determining the underlying causes of her symptoms.

Even while the present study may only benefit a tiny portion of patients, it has already started to influence the discipline of psychiatry by questioning established diagnostic and therapeutic modalities.

Intense immunotherapy was the mainstay of April’s care for her neuropsychiatric lupus.

She underwent cyclophosphamide, rituximab, and intravenous steroids during a six-month period.

April’s psychosis remained for a while, but early on in the course of treatment, she began to exhibit signs of cognitive improvement.

She reclaimed her childhood memories, identified her relatives, and showed improvement in cognitive abilities that had been missing for more than 20 years.

Many patients and their families who had lost hope in the chance of recovery have now found it because of April’s incredible recovery.

Researchers from all around the world are now examining the involvement of autoimmune and inflammatory processes in psychiatric diseases as a result of this discovery’s paradigm-shifting effects.

Similar studies are being carried out by researchers in Germany, Britain, and other nations in an effort to find more instances similar to April’s and transform mental treatment.

The reawakening of April has been pretty much like a miracle for her adoring family. No matter what, her loved ones think the difficult and prolonged road to recovery was worthwhile in the end.

The psychiatrist who was essential to April’s recuperation, Sander Markx, thought back on their contributions as well, saying that “These are the forgotten souls. We’re not just improving the lives of these people, but we’re bringing them back from a place that I didn’t think they could come back from.”

The potential for further epiphanies and transformations increases as research reveals the intricate connection between autoimmune illnesses and psychiatric problems.

April transferred to a rehabilitation facility in 2020 after being found mentally able to leave the psychiatric institution where she had spent nearly 20 years.

The family’s in-person reunion with April was postponed until last year due to Covid-related visitation limitations.

Finally, April’s brother, sister-in-law, and their children were able to pay her a joyful and heartbreaking visit at a rehab facility.


Katherine is just getting her start as a journalist. She attended a technical school while still in high school where she learned a variety of skills, from photography to nutrition. Her enthusiasm for both natural and human sciences is real so she particularly enjoys covering topics on medicine and the environment.

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