Liz Oldershaw

Liz Oldershaw

It takes someone strong to overcome adversity. It takes someone truly exceptional to turn adversity into something which helps others, and that’s exactly what Exeter alumna Liz Oldershaw has achieved in the last 4 years since she left university.

Having finished her finals in Psychology in 2011, Liz went on ‘the holiday of a lifetime’ to the Caribbean with her boyfriend. Liz still has no memory of sitting her final exams. She got a 2.1 and was finally well enough to attend her graduation ceremony in 2012. She hopes to study a Masters in Neuropsychology in 2016.

As Liz explains ‘I had taken my last ever exam, I was in love, I was planning to move to London. I was the happiest I have ever been...This was to be my last memory for quite some time. From this point onwards I can only remember fragments, so I have had to rely on other people’s memories to piece together exactly what happened.’

Liz’s health began to deteriorate on the flight home. Within days she was hospitalised and eventually a rare form of autoimmune encephalitis (swelling of the brain) was diagnosed.

As Liz explains in her story, (see what followed was an incredibly traumatic time for her and for her loved ones.
‘My family became convinced I was going to die.' she says.

Liz spent a total of six months in hospital including many weeks in an induced coma.

When she awoke from her coma, she had to learn everything completely from scratch: how to walk, how to talk and how to write.
Despite this, just 10 months later Liz completed what she considers her greatest achievement to date –the Great South Run, raising over £2000 for The Encephalitis Society. This was the first of many running ventures and fund raising projects: In 2014 she set herself the challenge of raising £2014 for The Eden Dora Trust which raises money for charities that help children with encephalitis.

Now living at home with her family in Devon, Liz volunteers for charities including The Encephalitis Society, South Brent Caring and Young Devon

Liz says she is inspired by Susannah Cahalan, the New York Times best-selling author who has had the same form of encephalitis. She details her experience in Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness which was a life-changing read for Liz. The two met at a book signing Susannah did in London and since then have developed a strong friendship. ‘If I’m feeling rubbish I can email her – she’ll always make the time to talk.’ Liz says.

Liz writes regularly about her experience of living with encephalitis and her blog and column in the Western Morning News are an inspiration to followers around the world.

‘In some ways this illness has taken everything from me. My life is filled with worry and each day is a struggle, revolving around hospital appointments and medication and the possibility of a relapse. In other ways it has changed me for the better. I don’t take life for granted; I’ve met some amazing people and had some brilliant opportunities. The incredible recovery I’ve made has shown me my strength of character and determination. Everything they said wasn’t possible I managed to do.’