A Whanganui teenager who survived a life-threatening brain infection continues to defy doctors in her recovery.

Alice Giltrap had to be flown to Wellington in September after needing emergency surgery when she suffered encephalitis, an infection that causes swelling of the brain.

She had a piece of her skull removed to allow the swelling in her brain to come down.

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After surgery and while in Wellington, Alice's mother, Maree Dowdle, had been told it would be a long road for recovery for Alice. She would have to learn to walk again and may not ever have use of her left side again.

They arrived back in Whanganui last week and the picture has changed remarkably from the perspective of doctors.

"Alice is now walking, but weak on her left side," Dowdle said. "The arm is a bit weaker than the leg so she's got to learn to use that again.

"[She has] still got eyesight problems in the left side. She's now eating, talking. She seems to be doing really, really well. Her doctors are calling her a miracle for what she's doing.

"She shouldn't be doing what she's doing in only three weeks.

"They're looking at a week [in rehabilitation]. They can't explain how quickly she's recovering because her brain is still very swollen. You can see it protruding through the skin. There's still a lot of inflammation there but they can't explain how quickly she is recovering."

Once Alice is finished in the rehabilitation ward at Whanganui hospital, she'll return home where Dowdle will care for her. In January she'll have to go back to Wellington to put a bone back in her skull.

Dowdle said Alice had some short-term memory loss and would likely face six months of chronic fatigue and headaches. She will also have to learn to read and write properly again.


"Now that she's a lot better, I'm a lot more relieved," Dowdle said.

"It could have been a lot worse. Her prognosis was severe brain damage or she wasn't going to make it.

"There doesn't seem to be any brain damage with who she is, her faculties. She's like the normal girl she was before this happened. It's more her mobility and cognitive - the reading, the writing, a simple puzzle. But her whole personality is still there in who she is."

Dowdle was exhausted. She's going to have to make big changes to her and Alice's lives. That will include moving out of their current house and to something simpler. Dowdlw was applying for a Housing New Zealand property.

They will also have to rehome Alice's dog who she can't care for anymore. They will also need to buy a new car because Dowdle's is too small and difficult for Alice to get in and out of.

The money raised by a Whanganui Girls' College fundraiser would go towards a new bed for Alice.

Dowdle was grateful for the "amazing support" they had received and she was particularly thanking of Alice's grandparents.