'My eyes were visibly shaking up and down': 23-year-old woman shares her unusual experience with COVID-19

Ellie Spina
·4 min read

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Shelby Ponder developed brain swelling after contracting COVID-19. (Images via Facebook/Shelby.Ponder1)
Shelby Ponder developed brain swelling after contracting COVID-19. (Images via Facebook/Shelby.Ponder1)

It's been more than a year since the novel coronavirus was declared a global pandemic, and while some of us have managed to steer clear of the virus, not everyone has been so lucky.

Shelby Ponder, from Lexington, Ky. opened up about her incredibly difficult and unpredictable experience with COVID-19 in an interview with TODAY. The 23-year-old's story is proof that no matter your age, the virus isn't something to be taken lightly.

This past summer, Ponder became unwell with what she believed was a bad case of strep throat. However, after two weeks of fighting off a merciless fever, hallucinations, headaches, confusion and trouble sleeping and seeing, she realized it was something much more serious.

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After visiting a doctor and testing negative for all viruses, including COVID-19, Ponder was at a loss. She continued to fight off fevers ranging from 101 to 103.9 degrees for weeks before it finally subsided, cooling down to a still uncomfortable 99 degrees.

“We couldn’t get it to break,” she told TODAY. “I was comatose nearly. I was sleeping around the clock, just up enough to eat and shower.”

Shelby Ponder developed viral encephalitis after contracting COVID-19. (Image via Facebook/Shelby.Ponder1)
Shelby Ponder developed viral encephalitis after contracting COVID-19. (Image via Facebook/Shelby.Ponder1)

Just as things were seemingly starting to improve, Ponder began feeling the effects of different symptoms.

“My whole vision field started shaking and doctors later described it as nystagmus,” she explained. “My eyes were visibly shaking up and down and left and right and that was what my entire vision was doing as well.”

Ponder was also sleep deprived and said at one point there was a week where she wasn't getting any "quality sleep."

“I thought I would never sleep again," she said. "When you have gone so far down that rabbit hole with just no sleep and no one understanding what is wrong with you, you just don’t really think there’s any hope.”

ALSO SEE: Mom post about the struggles of remote learning goes viral

Finally, Ponder was correctly diagnosed with viral encephalitis, or, brain swelling, which explained everything she had been experiencing. Doctors revealed that what she initially thought was strep throat was in fact, COVID-19.

Studies have found that most hospitalized COVID-19 patients later develop neurological symptoms including mild to severe headaches, dizziness, and altered brain function. Furthermore, doctors have reported a spike in neurological complications among patients with COVID-19. Encephalitis can also be caused by other viruses, such as herpes simplex virus.

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“I wasn’t cognitively aware enough to even realize what was happening,” Ponder said. “Having brain swelling was not even a thought that crossed my mind or that it could really be serious.”

Ponder hopes that by sharing her story, people will not dismiss COVID-19 and how ill a person can become.

“I just want people to take the pandemic seriously. This is not something that you want anybody you care about to go through," she told TODAY. " I hoped that my case was the exception to the rule but it seems like it might become pretty common for people to experience encephalitis with COVID. We can’t safely assume that just because you are not an old person or you don't have underlying issues it does not mean that you cannot have a devastating experience with COVID.”

Shelby Ponder and her fiancé, Camyn McClure. (Image via Facebook/Shelby.Ponder1)
Shelby Ponder and her fiancé, Camyn McClure. (Image via Facebook/Shelby.Ponder1)

Ponder has since thanked the media as well as The Encephalitis Society for helping raise awareness.

"I’m thankful to The Encephalitis Society for sharing my story, and to the media who recognize the importance of connecting survivors," she wrote via Facebook. "I know there are other people suffering who can relate, and I hope my story can help others never have to relate to this experience in the first place. Disregarding the gravity of this virus once you know what it can do to people around you is simply evil—there’s no other way to excuse that ideology. Keep yourself and others safe."

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