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Brain Swelling Medical Mystery Solved

"The Early Show"'s kicked off its "Medical Mysteries" series Thursday. It's based on the book, "Every Patient Tells a Story: Medical Mysteries and the Art of Diagnosis," by Dr. Lisa Sanders.

Sanders, the inspiration for the television drama "House M.D." shared on the broadcast the story of one woman's mysterious brain illness.

Amanda Bolstridge, who works 80 hour weeks during harvest time at a broccoli farm in northern Maine, looks like the picture of health now. But just two years ago, she was near death.

Vicky Bolstridge, Amanda's mother, told CBS News, "She kept saying there's something wrong, my head feels funny. There's something wrong in my head."

Amanda was having terrible migraines and mood swings so violent her mother had to take her to the emergency room. After being sent to hospital after hospital Amanda was diagnosed with encephalitis, a swelling of her brain.

Amanda eventually slipped into a coma.

Vicky said, "Just thinking about it I want to cry. Because we came so close."

Amanda was transferred to the neurology intensive care unit at world-renowned Massachusetts General Hospital.

First year OB-GYN resident Dr. Rachel Clark was assigned to her case.

"She was a mystery," Clark said. "Nothing exactly pointed to anything until they had this scan."

A computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan revealed a small cyst on Amanda's left ovary. Clark showed the results to attending OB-GYN Dr. Rebecca Kolp.

Kolp diagnosed Amanda's cyst as a teratoma. Teratomas can form virtually any tissue or organ in the body -- often growing teeth and hair. But was there a connection between this cyst and the swelling in Amanda's brain?

Kolp said, "We think we know everything in medicine and we think we've figured so many things out and yet there's still a lot of mysteries out there."

In Amanda's case, doctors believed her teratoma might actually be making brain cells which her immune system recognized as foreign. Could the antibodies in Amanda's system be attacking not only the growing brain cells in her cyst, but also her brain?

Clark recommended the cyst be removed.

Clark said, "I was kind of embarrassed actually to bring it up to the team because I was like, "Oh God, I'm the new intern, and they're going to think I'm insane that I want to take this girl to the OR(operating room)."

Kolp agreed surgery was the only option -- her left ovary was removed that day.

"The odds I was right were terrible," Kolp said.

The next morning Amanda was still in a coma. Clark was disappointed until Kolp gave her a call.

Rachel said, "She was like, 'Rachel you're not going to believe this. You need to get up here now.'"

Amanda's mother said, "When I walked in she was sitting on the edge of the bed, one leg over the railing and she was going home."

After two months in a coma, Amanda was back.

Kolp said, "It was really one of the greatest moments of my career, because it's really like bringing somebody back, and something I never ever would have dreamed that I would have been involved in."

Rachel added, "Yeah it was a cool day."

Sanders said on "The Early Show" the medical field is always learning, often through these mystery cases.

"When I went to medical school, my very first day on medical school, the dean said toll of us, 50 percent of what we're going to teach you in the next four years is wrong," she said. "Unfortunately, we don't know which half. Because we don't know it yet. The doctor is right. Mysteries are happening all the time. We think that medicine is this set body of knowledge. But we're adding to it all the time. New diseases, new treatments."

Amanda's story and her new book, Sanders said, are reminders to the medical community to listen to their patients. Also, Sanders said, patients need to feel free to speak to their doctors about their health.

"I think that patients are afraid to tell their stories. Doctors don't give them any indication that their story is important," she said. "And yet it's clear that up to 80 percent, sometimes 90 percent of cases are diagnosed based on the patient's history, the story they have to tell and what's happened to them before."

Sanders said you should tell the story you've been telling to your family members and friends about your health.

"In (that story) is important information," she said.



Read an excerpt of "Every Patient Tells a Story"

Sanders originally reported Amanda Bowlstridge's story for her monthly "Diagnosis" column in the New York Times Magazine. Bowlstridge's story is not included in Sanders' new book.