Back from the brink
Briana Beaver nearly died last summer from acute neurological ailment
“When I feel better, I just want to have some fun.”
Those are the words of Briana Beaver, who—in addition to having cerebral palsy—was diagnosed with a neurological disorder last summer that nearly killed her. She has made weekly trips to San Francisco with her mother, Faelin Klein, since last July to receive treatment for an ailment that’s caused her so much pain she couldn’t shower because the spray of water was too intense.
The 25-year-old Chico State graduate, who was featured in a CN&R cover feature (see “Labeled disabled,” by Stacey Kennelly, July 21, 2011), began speaking again only a month ago, after not talking for about three months.
She spoke recently by speakerphone from San Francisco, where she sees two specialists regularly—Sergio Azzolino, a chiropractic neurologist, and Dr. Ahvie Hers-kowitz, an internist who deals with her “metabolic problems.”
“I couldn’t talk before. … I couldn’t think. I couldn’t cry, I was in so much pain,” Beaver said in her somewhat halting but articulate speech.
Beaver said her body pain was so intense last June that, as she lay in bed at Stanford Hospital in the Bay Area, she “welcomed the thought of death,” as she wrote at GoFundMe.com. Beaver is making use of the crowdfunding website to raise $41,500 to help pay for her ongoing, “extremely expensive” medical treatment, which is not covered by her insurance (at press time, she had raised $3,990).
“My health has been declining pretty rapidly over the past few years,” Beaver said. “Last year, everything came to a big crash.” That is when Beaver became “unable to eat or drink due to excruciating pain throughout my entire body.”
She was admitted to Stanford last June. “[B]ut they couldn’t figure out what was going on,” she said. “I didn’t eat or drink for six weeks. I had a PICC line [peripherally inserted central catheter].”
Her weight dropped from an already-low 95 pounds to 79 pounds during her hospital stay. She was referred to Azzolino after her early-July discharge from Stanford.
“The first time I saw him, he said that everything that was going on with me was neurological,” Beaver said. “Essentially what happened was that the entire right side of my brain wasn’t working. It hasn’t been working properly for my whole life. It took this long of not having [the correct] care and medical treatment for all this time for it to crash.”
Beaver said there is no name or diagnosis for her neurological ailment, but that Azzolino told her he’s seen it in other patients, but not to the degree where it was killing them.
“The first time I saw him,” she said, “he took my mom in the other room and told her I had two days to live.”
Things are looking up for Beaver these days, but she needs financial help to continue her treatments. Some of the treatments Azzolino provides use “visual tools, with my eyes.” Others, she said, are physical manipulation of her body.
“He’s essentially rewiring my brain through exercises targeting specific areas of my body,” she said.
Some of the exercises she does on her own, while others are performed with Azzolino’s assistance during Beaver’s weekly visits, which take place two to three days in a row each week, for one to two hours at a time.
“I wasn’t able to read or write or look at anything solid until a month ago,” she said. “I would get nauseous and throw up, or get dizzy and pass out, and have horrible pain.”
She said it is too painful for her to look at a computer screen, read or watch television.
“Every sensory input—touch, taste, visual—gave me excruciating pain, so no one could even touch me. [Azzolino] was the only one that was allowed to touch me in the first six months of treatment.”
She said the treatments need to continue, and both specialists say they are confident that she can make a full recovery.
“I want to contribute to the world,” she said. “I want to be in love. I want to have kids.”
Bill Brouhard is a family friend waging a campaign to encourage people to donate to Beaver’s GoFundMe site.
“The thing that pulls at my heart is that kid will explain all these terrible health issues, all this terrible pain she has, with a smile,” said Brouhard, who’s known Beaver since she was 4 years old.
“If that was me, I’d just be complaining to everyone that would listen.”