I had to learn to love my children again: The remarkable story of one woman's battle with total memory loss
Tracey Deimert's eyes flickered open, but she could make no sense of the scene around her. She was in a hospital bed and a man she’d never seen before was holding her hand.
Beside her, a music player was running through tracks by the American rock band Bon Jovi, and though some part of her brain could recall every single word of the song Living On A Prayer, she had absolutely no idea who this person weeping beside her was.
‘Tracey,’ he said, gazing into her eyes. ‘It’s me, Garry, your husband.’ But there was not a flicker of recognition. She didn’t know who he was, where she was, what had happened or even her own name.
Building new memories: Tracey and Garry with sons Bradley, left and Cameron
Everything was a complete blank.
Even when Garry later brought in their two sons, Cameron, now 12, and Bradley, seven, hoping to jog her memory, she failed to recognise them or understand why their expectant little faces had crumpled into tears. ‘We were complete strangers to her,’ says Garry, 42, a maintenance technician at Hinkley Point power station in Somerset.
‘Here was the woman I loved; the woman who used to tell me we were made for each other, and she didn’t have a clue who I was and couldn’t remember me or our sons. I was devastated.’
Doctors had not expected Tracey to survive when her heart inexplicably stopped beating in September 2009, causing her to collapse one afternoon shortly after she’d taken the boys to visit her parents, Sue and Trevor.
It took medics almost an hour to resuscitate her, and they warned Garry her brain had been starved of oxygen for so long she would almost certainly remain in a persistent vegetative state.
But Tracey confounded all expectations. After a month, her eyes flickered open and she continued to gradually improve. Ten months later, she returned home from hospital to her family home in Bridgwater.
This month she and Garry will mark their 11th wedding anniversary with a special celebration. Only there will be no joint reminiscing over their 2001 wedding or Maldives honeymoon.
Garry says: 'We can't share memories like other married couples, which is hard, but I concentrate on the here and now'
For Tracey, 39, a former dispensing optometrist, can still remember nothing of life before she fell ill; not the day they met at secondary school, nor their sons’ joyous births. Nothing at all.
As for history and current affairs, she knows nothing of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and couldn’t tell you who Queen Victoria was. She wouldn’t recognise Tony Blair if he passed by in the street.
But she does know who Garry is now and — mirroring the forthcoming Hollywood film, The Vow, starring Rachel McAdams — has fallen in love with her husband all over again. ‘When Garry brought our wedding photos into the hospital, I couldn’t remember anything,’ says Tracey.
‘I looked at myself and thought: “Wow, wasn’t I pretty!” But I had no recollection of who I was, the person I’d been or of Garry.
‘I asked him lots of questions, such as “How did we meet” and “How long were we married”
‘I just accepted he was my husband. Even though he was a stranger to me, some forgotten instinct just kicked in. The memories were gone, but the feelings of love were still there.’
Garry, wiping tears away, adds: ‘We can’t share memories like other married couples, which is hard, but I concentrate on the here and now.
This month Tracey and Garry will mark their 11th wedding anniversary with a
special celebration. Only there will be no joint reminiscing over their
‘To me Tracey is still the woman I fell in love with. As her husband it’s down to me to create memories for her, so in many ways our marriage is stronger than before.
‘I plan exciting days out, just the two of us, or with the boys so we can fill her memory banks with happy new experiences.’
Garry and Tracey appear devoted to each other. She often turns to her husband to give him a warm, loving smile or hold his hand.
He insists he was not hurt to discover
the only person Tracey did remember from her past life was rock star
Jon Bon Jovi. Indeed, last summer he took her to see the band in concert
‘As we sat in
the audience, I looked over at Tracey and she was in floods of tears. I
said: “What’s wrong Do you want to go” ’ says Garry.
she told me: “I’m crying because I’m happy. I never thought I’d ever
reach the point I’d be well enough to be here, doing this.” ’
bizarrely — considering she has forgotten everything else — was word
perfect as she sang along to every one of Bon Jovi’s songs. She also
recalls all the words to the hits of Abba. And if she can remember
those, Garry reasons, might she one day also remember her own past
loves to listen to Garry telling her life story; she likes the sound of
the caring, capable, popular and vibrant woman she once was and wishes
she could still be.
sweethearts, they met at school when he was 14 and she was 12. They
dated for a couple of years in their teens, drifted apart and met again
in their late 20s.
had just come out of a relationship and moved to a new house, round the
corner from Tracey. When his father died, she sent him a condolence
card, and they started dating again.
‘Tracey was very warm, very loving and she had a wonderful sense of humour,’ says Garry.
from high blood pressure, Tracey did not appear to have any serious
health problems, so her sudden collapse at her parents’ home was like a
bolt out of the blue.
would later turn out that Tracey, who has now been fitted with a
pacemaker, was suffering from an undiagnosed heart condition — an
unusually long and irregular heartbeat that can cause sudden death
syndrome in adults.
Garry was at work when his father-in-law Trevor phoned to tell him Tracey had been rushed to hospital.
‘I couldn’t take it in,’ says Garry, who broke every speed limit racing to Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton on his motorbike.
Moving on: The family in hospital shortly before Tracey was discharged
‘When they finally let me see Tracey in intensive care, she was unconscious and covered in wires and monitors.
was absolutely devastated because, though she was alive, there seemed
to be no hope for her at all. The doctors told me: “Tracey will never
talked about what we would want if either of us became so disabled all
quality of life was gone, and we’d agreed we wouldn’t want to be a
Three weeks after
Tracey collapsed, doctors requested a meeting with Garry to discuss
whether she should be resuscitated if she fell ill again.
was wrestling with the answer when Tracey — against all odds — showed
signs of improvement. First, her leg started moving; then she began to
kick out as if trying to remove the monitor wires and drips.
eyes opened and shut, and after six weeks she could breathe on her own.
At night, the nurses reported, Tracey had started calling for her son
After six months she was able to eat, sit in a chair and, though she had no memory, was able to hold simple conversations.
was still very ill, but she knew I was her husband. After I’d left I
could hear her shouting for me.’ But it was tough on the boys.
Art imitating life: Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams star in forthcoming movie The Vow which tells a very similar story to Tracey's
‘Bradley was too young to understand, but the rejection really hurt Cameron. He had such a close connection with his mother. He felt he’d lost his mum.’
Tracey continued to make good progress and, after ten months, doctors started talking about moving her into a care home. However, her husband was determined she should be at home.
‘Tracey’s my wife, I love her and I felt she needed to be back home where she belonged,’ says Garry, who is helped by his mother, Marilyn, and two carers, paid for by social services.
‘Tracey was in a wheelchair when she came home, but now she can walk short distances. In the beginning she didn’t even recognise our home: I had to put signs all around the kitchen telling her where everything was.
‘She couldn’t cook because she’d forgotten heat could burn. She’s had to re-learn everything.’
The romantic side of their marriage had to take a back seat to Tracey’s medical needs. Garry said: ‘We haven’t been able to restore full intimacy, but we hope to at some point in the future.’
Her recovery is on-going. She still has problems with short-term memory and finds it hard to put feelings into words, but her affection for her husband is clear.
‘Six months ago I suddenly said: “I know who I am again,” ’ says Tracey. ‘I’m very happy being at home with my family.
‘I can’t remember my old life or do all the things I used to, but I love Garry and he loves me.
‘I can’t be the mum I was to my sons, but I still know how to love them. I feel very lucky.’
Garry adds: 'We are genuinely happy. We’re building new memories to replace those Tracey has lost. Our marriage is different, but I love her as much as ever.
‘While I don’t cling to false hope, one day perhaps we will find the key to unlock all those memories she’s forgotten.’