Woman Forgot Boyfriend And Five Years Of Life Due To Rare Condition
A 23-year-old woman is hoping to raise awareness for encephalitis after the rare condition caused her to completely forget some of her most formative years and her long-term boyfriend.
Georgia Lee, from Milton Keynes, UK, told doctors she was 17 years old after suffering a seizure when she was 22. She had no recollection of anything that had taken place in the last five years of her life, including going to university, passing her driving test and celebrating her 18th and 21st birthdays.
Georgia’s seizure was a result of encephalitis, an uncommon but serious condition in which the brain becomes swollen. The condition can be caused by viral infections, a problem with the immune system or bacterial or fungal infections, and can cause complications such as memory loss, frequent seizures or fits, or personality and behavioural changes.
For Georgia, the condition was related to a cold sore, which she believes infected the back of her throat and consequently affected her brain. Her symptoms began with a headache on the left side of her forehead; a pain that lasted for a couple of weeks.
Shortly after her headaches began, Georgia messaged her boyfriend of two years, Laurence, making ‘absolutely no sense’, so he contacted Georgia’s father, who rushed her to hospital.
Georgia remained in hospital for about a month, and towards the start of her stay she suffered the seizure that affected her memory. At first she struggled to recall her dad and couldn’t even remember her own name, but thankfully those details soon returned.
However, it wasn’t until doctors asked Georgia how old she was that she realised she’d lost a huge chunk of her life.
Georgia spoke to UNILAD about the upsetting experience, saying:
The [thing] I hate the most is that I don’t remember my four years at university, therefore don’t remember doing my degree in Animal Science and Business Studies. I have had to get to know my university friends and my university experience all over again.
I was quite upset that I couldn’t remember those five years of my life as they are important years that would have been so useful in the future.
So now, yes I do have a degree, but if I apply for a job and they question me about my degree and my time at university I can’t give them an answer as I don’t remember… I feel like I’m not good enough and don’t have a lot to offer.
As she met Laurence when she was 19, Georgia had no recollection of the man who came to visit her in hospital. She ‘didn’t recognise him when [she] saw him’, and Laurence was forced to introduce himself to Georgia all over again.
Doctors had warned Laurence anything could happen as a result of Georgia’s brain injury, so he was ‘ready for whatever came his way’, whether it be that Georgia ‘may not remember him’ or even that she ‘may not want to be with him anymore’.
Laurence was determined to help Georgia through the tough ordeal, however, and took time to show her videos and photos of their time together. He talked her through exactly how they’d met, and spoke about all the fun activities they’d done together, like ‘walking llamas, segwaying, visiting zoos [and going on] holiday to Greece’.
Understandably, it was hard for Georgia to take in everything she was being told. Everything felt fresh to her, as if she was ‘starting a… brand new relationship’ with someone she had never met before, but in comparison Laurence had two years’ worth of memories to go off.
Thankfully, the couple managed to work through the tough times and they are now ‘a lot more comfortable’.
[We] both understand each other completely and it didn’t take too long for me to get to know him all over again and I have been cherishing every moment.
Encephalitis affects approximately 500,000 people globally each year, yet 78% of the population don’t know what the condition is. The Encephalitis Society offers support for those suffering by conducting events to help raise awareness for encephalitis and promoting World Encephalitis Day, which takes place on February 22.
The society is also encouraging people to sign its Encephalitis Matters petition, which urges the World Health Organization (WHO) to feature World Encephalitis Day as one of its World Health Campaigns.
The petition also asks the WHO and its Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, to meet with Dr Ava Easton, Chief Executive of the Encephalitis Society, and its Scientific Advisory Panel to talk about why encephalitis matters and how the encephalitis agenda can be spread more globally.
As well as losing her memories, encephalitis caused Georgia to lose her sense of smell and affected her taste buds. She can only taste ‘strong’ foods, so her diet now often consists of things she used to hate and foods that are particularly sweet or spicy – she recently ordered a pizza topped with anchovies, pineapple and gherkin, for example.
The condition also left Georgia feeling incredibly anxious, and she struggled with simple tasks ‘which are normal to other people’, like getting a bus or train on her own, and even just leaving the house. Georgia visited a psychologist to help work through the difficulties, though she still finds it hard to explain her situation to others.
She told UNILAD:
[It’s hard] to try and get them to understand what I was and still am going through, and to try and let people know that just because I’m out of hospital doesn’t mean I’m completely better and back to my normal self – I’m not and I never really will be.
Doctors treated Georgia’s encephalitis with medication, injections, a lumber puncture and numerous CT scans, and though they successfully got rid of the condition Georgia said the side effects will ‘never really go’. She is now on seizure medication, which she will take for the foreseeable future to help prevent further seizures.
Encephalitis also impacted Georgia’s ability to find a job, as forgetting her entire university degree affected her confidence and left her feeling as though she is not ‘clever enough or capable enough to get a good job that [she will] enjoy and will actually be good at’.
She is now working at the company her dad is employed at, though she hopes to find a new job soon. The 23-year-old has found great support in her friends and family, who have helped with memory games and taught her everyday tasks she had forgotten.
My friends have been so good and have updated me on so many funny things from the past that I missed in those five years, and as they show me pictures it does sometimes bring back a small memory, so pictures and music mean a lot to me.
The photos and memories shared with Georgia have left her unsure whether she has actually recalled any of the information she lost, or whether she is simply drawing on what she has been told, but when reminded of an event she feels as though she can remember it.
Georgia has now taken to documenting life events in scrapbooks, so she has something to look at should she ever lose her memory again.
Though there are a lot of things Georgia may never remember, she tries to look on the bright side and is now using her experience to help raise awareness for encephalitis.
I try and think of all the positives – I’m very happy it is only five years I don’t remember and not any more.
I’m so glad I remember my childhood and growing up, as my mum passed away when I was nine and it makes me so happy that I still remember her.
I want people [with encephalitis] to know they have so many others that can understand… what they are going through or have gone through, so they have the support around them and so [encephalitis] can become better known for all the people affected in the future.
Georgia has done her part to spread the word by taking part in a colour run to raise money for The Encephalitis Society, and on World Encephalitis Day this year she and her friends organised a charity quiz and raffle for 140 people.
At the quiz, Georgia gave a speech to explain what encephalitis is, as well as talking about The Encephalitis Society and what she has been through. She and her friends managed to raise £3,000 for the society, and she has since spread the word further through interviews.
Georgia’s efforts to help raise awareness have left her feeling ‘so happy’, and she hopes people will continue to learn more about the condition as a result of her sharing her story.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues you can contact The Encephalitis Society for support on 01653 699599.
If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
CreditsThe Encephalitis Society
The Encephalitis Society