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Young Mother, Teacher Recovers from Rare Illness

Kendyl Sumbry of Phenix City, Ala., heads back to school -- as a teacher and student.

Although Kendyl Sumbry, 28, has spent four years as a teacher in her hometown of Phenix City, Ala., this year might be the sweetest of them all. That’s because Kendyl’s daughter, Madison, is in pre-kindergarten at the same school, so they ride together to Ridgecrest Elementary everyday.

Madison, a petite and precocious 5-year-old, hangs out in her mother’s second grade classroom for a little while in the mornings and afternoons, and she has become a class favorite. Mom is just happy for both of them to be there.

On March 23, 2015, Kendyl woke up so groggy that she felt drugged. Soon came memory loss, confusion and the loss of motor skills. A longtime motorcycle enthusiast and an aspiring tattoo artist, Kendyl lost the ability to do both. By April 2, she was on a respirator in a local hospital. She endured two spinal taps before an ovarian teratoma was discovered.

Doctors removed one of her ovaries, and discovered the root cause of Kendyl’s symptoms. She was diagnosed with NDMA receptor antibody encephalitis, an acute form of encephalitis in which her immune system – in attempting to fight the ovarian tumor – received mixed signals and mistakenly attacked her brain, impairing function throughout Kendyl’s body.

Shepherd Center physical and occupational therapists helped her relearn how to walk, how to talk and how to do everyday tasks, such as getting dressed and taking a shower.

“I’ll never know the lengths that my mom and so many others went to in order to help me,” she says, “but I owe a lot to a lot of people.”

Now, she’s back to being mommy, back in the classroom, back on her motorcycle and back to practicing tattoo designs on willing friends. On July 4, she hopes to run the AJC Peachtree Road Race, raising funds for Shepherd Center.

Kendyl, who already has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in early childhood and elementary education, is also pursuing a doctorate from Northcentral University. Her dissertation explores creative retention methods to ensure that good teachers stay in the classroom.

“Eventually, I want to be a decision-maker in education,” she says. “I want to use the experience I’ve gained to help even more students.”

By Phillip Jordan

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.