British rugby star Abi Burton has shared the raw details of her harrowing health trauma in which she wrongly spent 26 days in a psychiatric hospital and 25 days in a coma.
Burton, 23, represented Great Britain in sevens at the Tokyo OIympics in 2021, suffering the heartbreak of losing the bronze medal match to Fiji.
After that tournament she felt “really down” and was placed on anti-depressants.
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And in 2022 she suffered her first seizure while sitting at the dinner table with her mum.
Burton was later treated for “psychosis” as her behaviour continued to deteriorate.
“I went from being a timid, unresponsive person, to really quite manic behaviour,” Burton told the BBC in an extensive interview.
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“I was really aggressive towards my parents, siblings and even the dog… I can’t imagine how scary that was for them.”
While in a psychiatric hospital, a member of the autoimmune diseases research staff eventually made a crucial breakthrough.
“He came up to my dad and said: ‘I think your daughter has something physical, I don’t think it’s mental.”
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Burton was diagnosed with the very rare autoimmune encephalitis and moved to a different hospital.
“I was so poorly. I knocked a few people out of the way trying to escape the ward. I rugby tackled a few of the security guards apparently, trying to bust my way through the doors, which are magnetic and don’t open normally.”
Eventually, Burton’s family made the tough decision to have her put in a coma so she could receive plasma exchanges.
During the 25 day coma, Burton contracted pneumonia twice and lost nearly 20kg.
Her health struggles meant she missed competing at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
But after regaining her strength she wants to return to the World Sevens Series this year.
“It could have been a lot different,” she says.
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