ASBP: Blood and Plasma Help Treat Rare Brain Disease
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Blood and Plasma Help Treat Rare Brain Disease

By Jeffery Diffy, ASBP blood donor recruiter, North Chicago, Ill.
For three years Sarah Rosenthal suffered from a rare brain condition that caused serious physical and mental health problems. It took time and persistence, but she eventually received an accurate diagnosis and treatment protocol that has helped her recover.

Rosenthal had always been an ambitious student and an adventurous and dedicated individual; from a young age she had made the time to study as well as to work and volunteer. In 2014, she graduated from the University of Minnesota with summa cum laude honors and a double major in Russian and global studies. She’d travelled across Europe and Russia as part of a State Department sponsored undergraduate study abroad program, and again during a sponsored volunteer position working with the lone soldiers in Israel. She began assembling plans to attend graduate school at Georgetown University and looked forward to further travel when growing health concerns derailed her course of action.

“…In Israel, I was forced to admit to myself that I had been suffering underneath the surface for years from a series of serious mental health issues that had finally come unavoidably and visibly to the forefront. I shocked myself and everyone by returning home to Minnesota after a week – which would be the beginning of a long three-year journey of an altogether different and entirely unexpected sort to a new place no one had ever heard of,” Rosenthal said.

Unbeknownst to her at the time, Rosenthal was voyaging though a potentially-fatal condition called Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis, a disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks the proteins that control electrical impulses in the brain- the functions of which are critical to judgement, the perception of reality, social interaction, forming and retrieving memories and regulation of unconscious activity. She began to experience frequent seizures as well as hallucinations, delusions, manic depression, anxiety and violent tendencies.

Rosenthal said, “Pain we cannot see is pain we cannot trust. This phrase is representative of professional and cultural attitudes we have towards mental health…”

Indeed, the manifestation of her symptoms were so foreign to those around her that it caused Rosenthal to be placed in several psychiatric wards and hospitals. Unfortunately, her symptoms shared properties with other illnesses- which led to misdiagnosis and obstructed appropriate care for her condition. Fortunately, her family and friends persevered in their support for her, and they were able to obtain a correct diagnosis of her disease- which had progressed to a point where she was seizing every ten minutes, had rendered her speechless, unable to produce or process information and had impaired her ability to control her body and bodily functions.

She underwent a 151-day hospital stay at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota where she received four blood and plasma transfusion treatments which she said were “an integral and indispensable part of the regimen used by medical professionals and doctors” as part of a larger treatment plan that necessitated careful follow-up even after she’d been discharged from Mayo.

In all, the road to recovery was prolonged; the presentation of symptoms was suggestive of other health issues and the disease had only had around 500 officially diagnosed patients worldwide at that time. Ongoing research and stories shared by patients who have experienced this disease is helping lead more people to an accurate diagnosis of their illness and enabling them to receive appropriate treatment. Without proper care- such as the plasma and blood transfusions- the disease can be fatal, which makes blood donors vital characters in their recovery stories.

Today Rosenthal continues her recovery and is enrolled as a full-time graduate student at Georgetown University studying global history. Her sister, Navy Seaman Recruit Rachel Rosenthal, has been inspired to become a blood donor because of the painful trial their family endured.

Reflecting on what happened to her sister, Rachel Rosenthal said, “I advise everyone to donate blood because you might think something like this would never happen to you- but, you never know what could happen… Think about the people you care most about and donate to the cause.”

Sarah Rosenthal expressed thanks to the people that supported her. She said, “I am grateful to be alive today- in no small part because a community of strangers was willing to come together to share both their ideas and lifeblood.”

About the Armed Services Blood Program
Since 1962, the Armed Services Blood Program has served as the sole provider of blood for the United States military. As a tri-service organization, the ASBP collects, processes, stores and distributes blood and blood products to Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and their families worldwide. As one of four national blood collection organizations trusted to ensure the nation has a safe, potent blood supply, the ASBP works closely with our civilian counterparts by sharing donors on military installations where there are no military blood collection centers and by sharing blood products in times of need to maximize availability of this national treasure. To find out more about the ASBP or to schedule an appointment to donate, please visit To interact directly with ASBP staff members, see more photos or get the latest news, follow @militaryblood on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and Pinterest. Find the drop. Donate.

The Armed Services Blood Program is a proud recipient of the Army Maj. Gen. Keith L. Ware Public Affairs award for journalism.