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January 2011



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While most teenagers struggle to get out of bed in a morning, Louisa Ball might take 10 days to fully wake from her slumber, due to a very rare neurological disorder. So what’s it like living with Kleine-Levin Syndrome?

Louisa has slept through holidays, friends’ birthdays and half of her GCSEs.

In 2008, aged 14, she had been suffering from flu-like symptoms. She was at her school in Sussex when she started nodding off in class and behaving strangely.

“I didn’t know what I was doing, what I was saying, everyone thought ‘hey this isn’t right,'” she recalls.

“I was hallucinating and after that I don’t remember anything. All of a sudden it just went blank and I just slept for 10 days. I woke up and I was fine again.”

Her parents Rick and Lottie watched their daughter becoming fidgety and with unusual facial expressions as she sank into sleep. The first time was a frightening experience for them, although Louisa herself says she wasn’t scared by the episode, more puzzled.

“It was really weird, no one knew what was wrong, we just thought it wasn’t going to happen again. And then four weeks later it happened again.”

She was finally diagnosed with Kleine-Levin Syndrome (KLS). There is no known cause or cure but Louisa says it was good to know what it was and that it wasn’t life threatening.

The average time it takes to diagnose the condition is four years, because there is no test and so it requires a process of elimination of other disorders.

The disease was named after Willi Kleine, a neurologist from Frankfurt, and Max Levin, a psychiatrist from New York, who identified patients with similar symptoms in 1925 and 1936.

Louisa is unusual as KLS usually affects teenage boys, who can also exhibit hypersexuality and inappropriate behaviour.

As well as excessive sleeping, symptoms include behaviour changes, irritability, feeling in a dream-like state and binge eating, symptoms that can be mistaken for normal teenage behaviour. There are no drugs that have conclusively shown to alleviate symptoms.

‘No dreams’

Louisa Ball

Louisa was relieved not to miss her school prom

People with the sleep disorder narcolepsy fall asleep immediately, but people with KLS might sleep more and more over a number of days before falling into sleep mode.

Louisa says she remembers very little when she wakes up from an episode: “It’s just blank – no dreams. Now I’ll remember a lot more that’s gone on. Before I wouldn’t remember anything at all. My dad thinks my brain is learning to cope with it more.”

So how do you deal with a disorder that takes over your life so much?

It nearly ruined Louisa’s career ambitions, because she slept through most of her GCSEs but her college allowed her to enrol and she is studying sport performance and excellence, with dreams of being a dancer.

Read in Full(Includes Video):  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11897472

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