Sabrina Cruz Castro was working on The Harder They Fall in New Mexico when she had to be hospitalized

By Joelle Goldstein
December 08, 2020 11:55 AM
Sabrina Cruz Castro
| Credit: Sabrina Cruz Castro

An Emmy-nominated makeup artist is searching for answers as she battles a severe health condition, believed to have been caused by an "unknown viral infection."

For nearly two months, Sabrina Cruz Castro has been in and out of the hospital, undergoing tests to determine why she is so sick, her mom Teri Castro tells PEOPLE.

The 35-year-old effects makeup artist was in New Mexico on Oct. 17, working on The Harder They Fall, an upcoming film starring Idris Elba, Jonathan Majors, and Regina King, when she felt ill, her mom says.

After more than seven weeks and a number of possible diagnoses — including everything from vertigo to viral meningitis — Teri says doctors still don't have a definitive diagnosis but believe it could be due to Autoimmune Encephalitis (AE).

AE is a rare disease in which brain inflammation causes the body's immune system to attack healthy cells or tissues in the brain or spinal cord, according to the Hospital for Special Surgery.

"Encephalitis, autoimmune or otherwise, is a sort of general diagnosis that’s been given to cover an array of neurological possibilities," Teri explains.

"It appears that her condition and the symptoms she presents are both baffling and very rare," she adds of her daughter, who is currently being treated in the neurology unit of UCLA Medical Center.

Sabrina Cruz Castro
| Credit: Sabrina Cruz Castro

In the early stages of Sabrina's illness, Teri says her daughter thought she might have food poisoning or a hangover, "although she hadn't overindulged."

"In addition to throwing up uncontrollably, she felt the room spinning around her and was unable to stand. Everything was a blur around her and her eyes were unable to focus," she recalls. "She thought perhaps the altitude in Santa Fe had caused an odd reaction."

On Oct. 19, Sabrina went to a Santa Fe emergency room, only to return the next day. From there, she was admitted to the hospital, where she received "various" diagnoses, Teri says. She stayed there until Oct. 30.

Two weeks after her release, Sabrina saw a neurologist, who suspected a possible case of AE. The neurologist also recommended that Sabrina be treated at the neurological center at UCLA Medical Center.

Within days of arriving back home in L.A., Sabrina was admitted to the medical center, where she has remained.

"She is receiving aggressive medical treatment and will likely be transferred to a physical rehabilitation hospital when her complete diagnosis and prognosis have been determined," Teri shares. "The UCLA neurological medical teams have been amazing and are determined to help Sabrina reach a positive result."

Sabrina Cruz Castro working on the set of "The Little Mermaid Live"
| Credit: Sabrina Cruz Castro

In the wake of her health crisis, Sabrina's friend and colleague, Tym Shutchai Buacharern, set up a GoFundMe page to assist the makeup artist with her rising medical expenses as she continues to be out of work for an "an unknown amount [of] time."

"We decided to start the GoFundMe to make sure that her only job now is to focus on recovery," says Buacharern, 50, an Emmy-award winning makeup artist who has toured with Janet Jackson, Cher and Tina Turner, and is also working on The Harder They Fall.

In just one week, the GoFundMe — which stated that Sabrina's condition was caused by an "unknown viral infection" and has caused her "great physical trauma" including weight loss, loss of balance and mobility issues — has raised over $53,900.

A number of those donations have been from celebrities that Buacharern says he and Sabrina have worked with, including a $1,000 donation from King, 49, and a $250 donation from One Tree Hill alum, Hilarie Burton.

"Seeing celebrities that she had worked with, and some that don’t even know her, contribute to her fund was mind-blowing. But what warms my heart, even more, is the unexpected generosity of the community," Buacharern says.

Sabrina Cruz Castro working as a makeup artist
| Credit: Sabrina Cruz Castro

"We all know that 2020 has been a crazy year for everyone, so to see people put aside their own hardships the embraced Sabrina, brings tears to my eyes," he continues. "It's renewed my faith in humanity."

Adds Teri: "Sabrina is absolutely overwhelmed by the support and love being shown her. It’s very emotional for her... There are no words to convey the depth of thanks and appreciation felt by Sabrina and our entire family."

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Buacharern, who first met Sabrina in 2018 on Jordan Peele's film Us, adds of his friend: "To know Sabrina is to know her strength, loyalty, kindness, love and selflessness. She always puts the needs of others ahead of her own."

"To have so many people willing to step up and support her during this challenging time in her life is a testament of who Sabrina is as a person and how much she is loved," he adds.