The hidden illness that ‘can’t be seen like a scar’

Jennifer Weeks SUS-160604-160248001

Jennifer Weeks SUS-160604-160248001

0
Have your say

A woman teacher has revealed the life-long battle she has faced after a brain injury almost claimed her life as a baby.

Jennifer Weeks suffered from encaphilitis - an inflammation of the brain - when she was just five months old and was left paralysed down one side of her body.

She also suffered seizures and eye problems and her family feared the worst.

“No one was able to tell my parents what the impact the delayed treatment may have had or what the long-term implications of the illness would be,” said Jennifer, who now works as a teacher at Midhurst Rother College.

“At the time, there was no Google to search for parents going through the same thing or even to find out more about the illness – they were alone.”

There was therefore huge relief when Jennifer’s paralysis began to ease. She said: “My parents are fighters. They decided that encephalitis would not destroy me further or our family.

“My dad adapted a walker for me, with his DIY skills coming to the fore, he rebuilt it, widened it, gave additional support to it.”

Jennifer, from Burgess Hill, learnt to walk - and more - and has now recovered so much that she even competes in ultra marathons where she walks up to 100 km in 24 hours.

And later this month she will take part in the London Marathon and will run to raise money for The Encaphilitis Society.

She said: “Dad supports me from the sidelines and will be there at the London Marathon too.”

For the first 18 years of her life, Jennifer was a regular at Guy’s Hospital, London, where she underwent a number of eye operations and assessments, along with dental care and speech and language therapy.

But, despite her problems, she stayed in mainstream school and even went on to graduate with a BA history degree and a masters degree. Today, she is a member of a senior leadership team at Midhurst Rother College.

Jennifer said: “Other than my immediate family, very few people know I had encephalitis. How do you describe an illness where the damage can’t be seen as easily as a scar on your arm?

“I don’t look like someone whose brain has been damaged - but then again, who does? I have a successful career, I own my own home, and I compete in ultra-marathons.

“People don’t see the years of hard work - that both my parents and I put in - behind the scenes just to get to the starting line of life that other people take for granted.”

Around 6,000 people in the UK each year are affected by encephalitis.

Dr Ava Easton, chief executive of The Encephalitis Society said: “Most people have not heard of encephalitis unless it has happened to them or a loved one and we are determined to change that.

“Encephalitis is a thief – robbing families of their loved ones or, if they survive, the person they once knew.

“It steals memories, personalities, and abilities we take for granted: concentration, attention, thinking, judgement, and inhibition, to name a few.

“For many of our members there are additional challenges such as epilepsy and levels of fatigue so great that returning to a normal working life can be difficult.”

Dr Easton added: “What Jennifer is planning to do in support of The Encephalitis Society is fantastic on so many levels. Any money raised will help the society to provide support for our members and fund research into the condition as well as raise awareness among people who may never heard of Encephalitis before.”

Jennifer will take part in the London Marathon on April 24. Visit https://www.justgiving.com/Jennifer-Weeks1 or visit www.encephalitis.info