IVIG Administration: $20K for Other People’s Antibodies

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Brain On Fire" by Susannah Cahalan. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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What is IVIG administration? What is IVIG treatment?

IVIG administration or IVIG infusion is a treatment for immune disorders. Healthy antibodies from donors are given to a sick patient.

See how doctors recommended IVIG administration for Susannah and what the results were.

Autoimmune Disorders

Unbeknownst to Susannah’s family, Siegel asked Najjar to join Susannah’s team. Najjar has a track record of solving a number of mystery cases, and Siegel has confessed that he’s stumped by Susannah’s case. Based on Siegel’s expert summary, Najjar suggests that Susannah might have viral encephalitis. Without seeing her, he prescribes an antiviral drug and recommends testing Susannah for viral encephalitis, caused by a herpes virus. Again, all the tests come back negative. 

Najjar next suggests that Susannah’s condition might be an autoimmune response. He immediately puts Susannah on IVIG treatment, a protocol he used successfully on another patient. On April 2, a nurse arrives to give Susannah the first of five IVIG infusions. Hallucinating that the nurse is responsible for her illness, Susannah punches her in the chest.

What Is IVIG Treatment?

Under normal conditions, our immune system creates antibodies to combat infections from foreign invaders like viruses or bacteria. On rare occasions, the immune system manufactures antibodies that attack cells or tissues in a person’s own body. When this happens, the person develops an autoimmune disease like lupus, multiple sclerosis, or the type of brain inflammation that Susannah suffered from.

IVIG infusions contain healthy antibodies from thousands of blood donors. Each infusion costs more than $20,000.

Receiving IVIG Administration

Susannah receives her second course of IVIG treatments. By this time, she’s become catatonic. Her brain cells are misfiring, making it impossible for her to sense her body in space. She sits in awkward poses. Her speech has degraded even further.

By this time, Susannah is constantly drooling and smacking her lips, even in her sleep. She stares straight ahead, as if sleeping with her eyes open, her tongue hanging out. The IVIG administration efforts aren’t working. Dr. Siegel is no longer on the case, and Dr. Najjar hasn’t even shown up. What will prevent the other doctors from giving up too?

IVIG Administration: $20K for Other People’s Antibodies

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Susannah Cahalan's "Brain On Fire" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Brain On Fire summary:

  • How a high-functioning reporter became virtually disabled within a matter of weeks
  • How the author Cahalan recovered through a lengthy process and pieced together what happened to her
  • How Cahalan's sickness reveals the many failures of the US healthcare system

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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