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Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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Neurologist at Mary Washington Hospital to be featured on episode of Animal Planet

Dr. Christopher Kobet, a neurologist at Mary Washington Hospital, will be featured this week on an episode of Animal Planet.

The show airs Friday, Oct. 26, at 8 and 11 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 27, at 3 p.m. It is entitled “My Daughter is Losing Her Mind.”

Dr. Christopher Kobet

The show will focus on Kobet’s work with Kiera Echols, a patient he treated in 2009, while he was senior resident at University Hospital at the University of Cincinnati.

Echols was a patient on the hospital’s neurology floor, admitted for what appeared to be a psychotic breakdown. She is pictured in the film as a wild-eyed young woman of 22.

“It looked like she had lost her mind completely,” Kobet said.

Yet Echols’ unusual behavior and subtle facial movements reminded Kobet of two other patients he had treated. Those patients were diagnosed with a newly discovered disorder, called anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. The patients were not psychotic, doctors learned, and neither was Echols.

Kobet, 34, arrived at Mary Washington a year ago to join its Rappahannock Neurology Specialists. He has not seen any patients with anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis since moving to Fredericksburg. But while in Cincinnati he saw five cases and became something of a local expert on the rare condition.

Dr. Joseph Dalmau of the University of Pennsylvania was the first to identify the disorder in 2007. Sufferers are usually young women who are admitted for psychiatric care after having hallucinations or other unusual behavior. Often, they develop seizures and become unresponsive.

“They get sicker and sicker,” Kobet said.

At one point Echols believed that she was pregnant and cried out as if in childbirth. She also rocked with an empty bundle of blankets as if she was holding a newborn.

“It was very bizarre,” Kobet said.

An MRI of her pelvis showed that Echols, like many sufferers, had a teratoma, or benign tumor, on her ovaries. A test of her spinal fluid confirmed that the tumor had triggered a release of antibodies, which had affected her brain. She was not mad, Kobet concluded, just under attack by her own immune system.

Echols had an operation to remove the tumor and was soon feeling better.

“She made a significant improvement very quickly,” Kobet said.

Today he and Echols are Facebook friends and have worked together on film projects to tell her story. They want others to think about all possibilities when patients with no prior psychiatric problems suddenly become disturbed.

“Most of the time these women are initially misdiagnosed,” he said.

A Fox News broadcast from Cincinnati and a film that Kobet made of Echols are here: