HENDERSON (FOX5) -- Tori Calaunan was a healthy 24-year-old, but in May, she started getting confused often and could no longer do simple tasks like write or answer basic questions.
"In one of my nursing classes, I was sitting there following along with my professor trying to type something out and I could not type. I didn't know how to open the files, I didn't know how to do anything," Calaunan said. "I had to ask someone to help me and I was just like, I don't know why this is happening.”
Calaunan said she then started experiencing strange symptoms she couldn't understand or explain including sudden weakness in her legs.
“I went to the ER because the weakness was getting so much worse. I was driving and couldn't feel the pedals. When I got there, I couldn't write out the paperwork I looked at it and was like 'this is not my handwriting,'" she said.
She couldn't answer any questions, and said she had to have a staff member help her write them out.
From the ER, Calaunan was sent to Mountain View Hospital. Doctors thought she may have had a stroke or possibly meningitis. She went home from the hospital a week later, but she said she still wasn’t herself.
"My other daughter found her wandering in the house and she didn't have any idea of where to go and how to get dressed,” Tori’s mother, Yolanda Burke, said.
Her mom took Tori back to the hospital the next morning. Doctors ran several tests including MRIs and CT scans, but they didn't find an answer and Calaunan was getting worse.
"As the days went on, she couldn't get up to use the restroom anymore. She could no longer cut her food. She was picking up food and it was dropping," Burke said. "They were just baffled as to what it was.”
"I was told that I was hallucinating a lot, I would look at my hand and I wouldn't know what it was. I clearly remember looking at it and thinking, 'I don't know why it's like this. It looks weird,'” Calaunan said.
Burke said it was tough watching her daughter go through this, and it left questions as to what Calaunan's future looked like.
After two months at Spring Valley Hospital, Tori was transported to University of California, Los Angeles. It was there that she was finally diagnosed with anti-N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor encephalitis.
“It's when your immune system attacks your brain, so they did further testing and about two days later is when the tests came back positive,” Burke said.
According the Encephalitis society, this rare neurological disease happens when the body creates anti-bodies against the NMDA receptor, a protein in the brain that helps control thoughts, mood and movements.
Burke said on July 2, doctors treated her daughter with Rituxan, an anti-body blocker. Two days later, her mother said Tori's brain "just woke up."
“It was like the most amazing feeling ever to have a glimpse of her coming back and thinking, 'We have a chance of her being OK and recovering,'” Burke said.
After starting on Rituxan, Calaunan was sent to a rehab facility in Los Angeles where she went through speech, occupational and physical therapy.
She had to relearn everything from going to the bathroom and eating by herself, to reading and simple math, to walking and going up stairs.
"You don't really understand how it is to not be able to use your legs until you can't use them anymore," Calaunan said. "I think that was one of the most frustrating things, because I'd look at stairs and be like, 'Why can't I step up on this thing? It's not even that high,' but my legs were so weak, I'd need help.".
Months later, Calaunan has almost made a full recovery. She recently took an exam to get back into nursing school.
While it's been a difficult year, this mom and daughter are now working to raise awareness of the disease, and give hope to families who may be going through similar challenges.
“Just keep fighting. That's my best advice. And listen to your children if they say that they are not feeling right or not feeling well, just keep fighting,” Burke said.