Becky Dennis was in India, more than 8,000 miles from her home in Plano, Texas, delivering a presentation to a group of business people. She was 38, married with a young son, and in seemingly good health. Two hours later, she couldn’t walk or talk.
Dennis still can’t remember those first three days in a hospital overseas in 2008. Within the first 24 hours, she somewhat regained the ability to walk and talk, but her steps were deliberate, her words slurred. She had trouble balancing, her limbs were numb, and she could hardly see her eyes were so sensitive to the light. Far from her husband and son, she was sure of only one thing—she wanted to come home. So five days after her initial symptoms, as soon as it was safe enough for her to fly home, she was on her way.
As doctors worked to diagnose Dennis, she was constantly confronted with the neurological phenomena of her symptoms. Her short term memory? Gone. Ability to concentrate? Gone. Her 20/20 vision? Gone. It took more than a dozen doctors and over 27 months to figure out what was wrong: Encephalitis—swelling of the brain.
Now, five years later, Dennis is the Chief Marketing Officer for a quickly-growing business process solutions company in New York City. She wears glasses now and has some trouble concentrating, but she’s making a pretty amazing recovery. And while most people in her shoes might be content to just make it through each day, this Mayborn graduate took her experience and turned it into a book.
Brain Wreck is a medical memoir chronicles Dennis’ illness, her chase for a diagnosis, and her journey to save her mind. It recently reached No. 4 on Amazon’s best seller list, something Dennis can attribute, in part, to the Mayborn. “If I look at my career, and being able to accomplish a lot of things, it was definitely [Dr. Busby’s] influence,” she says. “Definitely marketing my book. I wouldn’t know the channels to go through without his training.”
Her book is both humorous and inspiring while also speaking to something bigger—the state of healthcare coverage in the U.S.
Encephalitis isn’t categorized as a brain injury, like a car accident or stroke is, Dennis says. But it should be. She still tries to get help from her insurance company while, at the same time, fighting her way back from her injury. Even now, she experiences short-term memory problems, a lack of focus, and trouble sleeping—typical for victims of encephalitis. “I’m probably 85 to 95 percent back,” she says. “I’ve been working with new doctors in the last six months to try new medications.”
But no matter the obstacles she faces, Dennis never backs down. From her time at the Mayborn, she learned “not to give up. As a writer or a journalist, you have to pitch a story a bunch of different times. And just because one door slams, doesn’t mean another won’t open.” That’s a good motto for writing and for life.