When Bruno Muratori, 46 and from London, contracted viral encephalitis as a teenager, the bright science student sustained a brain injury that left him with memory and balance problems, hearing loss and many other effects that would go on to challenge him for years to come.
"I was just 16 years old when I took seriously ill with what turned out to be viral encephalitis," Bruno recalled.
"We had been halfway through a lunch-hour at school when, without any warning, I became inexplicably very dizzy and lost all sense of balance. I felt so unwell that I spent a large part of the afternoon with friends in the school library, sitting down as I was not able to move around."
'Doctors thought I'd taken drugs'
"It soon became apparent that my condition was serious," Bruno continued. "Thankfully, my friends alerted the school staff and they rushed me to a nearby hospital.
"However, when we arrived at the hospital the doctor's first thought was that I had taken some drugs or something similar because one of my pupils was fully dilated. I suppose it is a common misconception. Brain injury is a complex condition with varying causes and effects, and I was young student with no obvious reason for my symptoms.
"The medical staff kept me in the hospital ward overnight for observation, and it was not until the next day that doctors suggested I might have a virus in my central nervous system. By that time, I was struggling to speak and the left-hand side of my body was almost completely paralysed."
Thankfully, Bruno's condition was taken seriously and he was diagnosed with encephalitis but, despite undergoing several lumbar punctures, it was difficult to determine if the condition was viral and, if so, which virus was involved. He was placed on a series of anti-virus medication, but the encephalitis left him with a devastating brain injury that changed his life in an instant.
'Brain injury is like a computer with damaged wires'
"During my month in hospital, I quickly began to regain basic control of my movements and lost language skills," said Bruno. "However, the same cannot be said for the more subtle hidden skills affected by my brain injury."
Even when Bruno was finally well enough to return home from hospital, he was forced to relearn everything from scratch as he struggled to complete hobbies he had once enjoyed and completed with ease.
"Before the illness, I used to be able to windsurf and cycle rather well," he continued. "In fact, the year before my injury I completed a 200-mile cycling trip. After encephalitis, my skills were not even close to my usual standard, and neither were my mental abilities.
"Brain injury significantly impacted upon my sense of balance, meaning I had to relearn how to balance on a surfboard, which was always a skill that came naturally to me.
"I also believe that the effects of my viral encephalitis very much affected my confidence and character, as I used to be outgoing but following my illness I am now an introvert.
"The doctors often likened the effects of brain injury to a computer when you rip off all of the connections and wiring. Re-wiring is a slow process and there may be a couple of short circuits along the way as your brain gradually reboots.
'Logical sequences are useful'
"Tasks that require mental capacity therefore became a huge challenge," said Bruno.
"My memory and ability to process information were majorly affected and I could no longer remember simple everyday facts. As a result, I was forced to significantly slow down my pace of studying.
"This change in work style quickly refocused my energies from being drawn towards science to mathematics. In maths, answers can usually easily be found in a book in the library and everything has its own logical sequence and order, which proved much more suited to my brain functions after encephalitis.
"Unfortunately, the slower pace of working meant that I fell behind one year at school as I spread my final year and end of school exams over two years instead of one. This was still very difficult for me and I did not do particularly well in any of my subjects apart from mathematics. My results, together with my inability to remember things very well, meant that I went to university in London to study for a BSc in Mathematics."
"I passed my degree and, while the grade was not to my usual standard prior to brain injury, it was good enough for me to carry on to complete an MSc."
Bruno spent almost ten years living in London and, as time passed, his capacity very gradually improved and the graduate was able to take on increasingly complicated cognitive challenges, even going on to begin and complete a PhD in Mathematics."
Today, Bruno is happily married with two children and works as an accelerator physicist at a laboratory in Europe. He has made an incredible recovery. However, even thirty years after sustaining his brain injury, he still suffers with slight hearing loss in one ear, memory problems and other cognitive difficulties.
"Even today, persistent memory problems can be a challenge," said Bruno "For example, when I read a book, I can look back on the experience and remember the opinion I had formed on the contents, but cannot remember the contents of the book itself. I also still find it exceedingly difficult to remember small everyday facts.
"What is more, following my illness a noticeable difference has been my sudden disproportionally high sense of empathy. I try to compensate for this with an artificially callous attitude at times, which can have an impact on those around me.
"However, by and large, I am happy. My determination played a vital role in my recovery.
"Even once you are discharged from hospital there could be years of difficult recovery ahead and it is never easy to prepare yourself and family for the changes and challenges that brain injury can cause. However, with the right support, at the right time, it is important to remember that there can be life after brain injury.
"For those people whose lives have been affected by a similar illness to mine – I say don't give up and, wherever possible, don't let the effects of brain injury take over and define your life."
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