Mt. Vernon Register-News

CNHI Special Projects

February 1, 2013

Virginia woman pieces together 17 years lost to amnesia

(Continued)

She had relationship journals, pain journals, drug journals, everyday life journals. Some entries were mundane, but others were revealing, such as this one from the year before she and her husband were married:

I'm "in love" again but this love is like the feeling I didn't think I could possibly ever have again. But . . . I don't think he's in "love" with me. Why do I fall for men that don't love me or don't want anything that I want? The 2 things I think about each day is how do I back out of this — I don't want to but I ask myself why be with someone who doesn't care. [He] knows how I feel but I never get a response.

— May 22, 2001

Shawnda learned of her troubles with her husband and read in detail about all the pain and depression she had lived through the past several months, and then forgotten. She read of people in her life who were now like characters in a novel she was starting from the middle.

Multiple sclerosis causes a person's immune system to attack and damage her own brain and spinal cord. The damage to her nerves' protective covering can alter how her brain normally detects pain. Numbness, poor motor skills and deteriorating vision are all common, and can come and go unpredictably. But doctors consider amnesia such as Shawnda's rare.

Neurologist Avindra Nath, now at the National Institutes of Health, treated Shawnda at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

"The hippocampus is a very important part of the brain for memory," he said. "So you can imagine that if she has destruction of cells within the hippocampus from the inflammation associated with multiple sclerosis, then that can possibly lead to the loss of memory."

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