A grandmother blacked out in a church car park, only to wake thinking it was 1980 and she was just 18 years old.
Kim Harris Denicola, 56, was leaving her weekly bible study group in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, last October when her vision suddenly became blurry.
After losing consciousness, Mrs Denicola woke in hospital, unable to recall anything beyond her last day of secondary school.
Mrs Denicola – who runs a food packaging business – could not even recognise her husband of 14 years David, 60, and was devastated to discover her parents had died several years earlier.
Doctors diagnosed Mrs Denicola – who does not even know who Donald Trump is – with transient global amnesia and warned her she will unlikely ever be able to recall the past 40 years.
Kim Harris Denicola (pictured) cannot remember the past four decades of her life after she blacked out in a church car park, only to wake thinking it was 1980 and she was just 18
The last thing Mrs Denicola can recall is the final day of secondary school, as she headed for her car following an exam. She is pictured in the back row second from the left aged 15
When she woke in hospital, Mrs Denicola did not even recognise her husband of 14 years David Denicola, 60, who is pictured right with his wife and her stepson Matthew, 19, last December
Mrs Denicola began to feel unwell shortly after leaving the Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church.
‘I called my husband and told him I had a really bad headache, one of those excruciating, don’t-know-what-to-do headaches,’ she said.
‘He told me not to drive and to ask one of the ladies to take me to the hospital.
‘Apparently I went up to my bible study friend and said: “Is there any possible way you can take me to hospital?” and she did.’
WHAT IS TRANSIENT GLOBAL AMNESIA?
Transient global amnesia (TGA) is defined as sudden, temporary memory loss that cannot be attributed to a common neurological condition, like a stroke or epilepsy.
TGA affects around five in every 100,000 people each year.
During an episode, sufferers cannot recall recent events, such as where they are or how they got there.
They may also draw a blank when asked about what happened a week, month or even a year ago.
Sufferers also often do not recognise their loved ones.
Although distressing, TGA is not serious with most patients’ memories gradually returning.
TGA’s cause is unknown, however, there is a link between sudden memory loss and a history of migraines.
Overfilling of the veins due to a blood blockage or another abnormality with blood flow may also be to blame.
In rare cases, TGA has been reported to be triggered by:
- Sudden immersion in cold or hot water
- Strenuous exercise
- Medical procedures, such as an endoscopy
- Mild head trauma
- Emotional distress
TGA is more common in people over 50.
There is no treatment or known prevention.
But Mrs Denicola does not remember any of this and is just recalling what others have told her.
When she woke at Our Lady of the Lake Medical Centre in Baton Rouge, the last thing Mrs Denicola remembered was her final day of school.
‘I was leaving school and heading for my car,’ she said. ‘I had just taken an exam because I was graduating my senior year.
‘The nurse asked me: “Do you know what year it is?” I said: “Yes, ma’am it is 1980”.
‘She asked me who the president was and I said: “Ronald Reagan”.’
Concerned, the nurse fetched Mrs Denicola’s husband, who cried as his wife failed to recall who he was.
As well as not recognising her own husband, Mrs Denicola also had no recollection of her children Justin, 35, and Jonathan, 34, or her stepchildren Nicholas, 23, Megan and Matthew, both 19.
She was also heartbroken to learn that her mother, Lucille Vickers, and father, Jay Harris, had both died years earlier.
‘I felt lost,’ she said. ‘I kept waiting for my mum and dad to show up. When you are 18, that’s what happens.
‘It kept going on and they never showed up. I didn’t know they had passed away. I didn’t remember either of my children. I didn’t know my grandchildren.’
When Mrs Denicola went to look in the mirror, she was horrified to see the reflection gazing back at her after she was convinced she was still a teenager.
‘The awakening came when I went to the restroom and looked in the mirror,’ she said.
‘It wasn’t the me I had remembered. It was a 56-year-old woman.’
Mrs Denicola (pictured recently) was devastated to discover her parents had both died several years before her amnesia episode. Thinking she was 18, she waited in hospital for them to arrive. Feeling ‘lost’, she looked in the mirror to see her 56-year-old reflection staring back
Mrs Denicola thought it was 1980 – the year she graduated (left) – and Ronald Reagan was president. Pictured left with her stepdaughter Megan on her graduation day in May 2017, she had to be reintroduced to her loved ones via Facetime, which she calls ‘the coolest thing’
For three days Mrs Denicola underwent scans and a host of medical examinations to try and get to the bottom of what caused her sudden amnesia.
But doctors are still none the wiser as to why her memories suddenly vanished.
‘Nobody really wants to say for sure what happened,’ Mrs Denicola said. ‘It could have been a small stroke they can’t see or a small, traumatic brain injury.
‘Or it could even have been a reaction to the medicine I took to help with muscle pain the night before the incident.’
Without an exact diagnosis, Mrs Denicola has been told she is suffering from transient global amnesia – sudden memory loss.
The extent of her amnesia is rare, leading doctors to believe she will never get those memories back.
Dr Tasha Shamlin, who specialises in internal medicine at The Medical Spa of Baton Rouge, said: ‘The time period of memory loss is longer.
‘She’s recalling back to where she doesn’t remember computers, so that was back in the 80s or 90s, so that’s really unusual that you have that type of memory loss associated.’
Doctors are unsure what caused Mrs Denicola sudden amnesia but believe it is likely due to a minor stroke or a reaction to medication to ease her muscle pain. But she does remember her childhood, and is pictured left aged ten with her cousins Whitney (centre) and Tracy (right)
Mrs Denicola (pictured with her friend Ricky in 1977 on their way to a school dance) has been told her amnesia is so extreme she will unlikely ever recall her lost memories. Determined to stay positive, she determinedly said she is ‘learning how to live in 2019’
Now home, Mrs Denicola’s husband is trying to jog her memory by showing her family photographs and reintroducing his wife to her loved ones via FaceTime.
‘There’s the coolest thing called FaceTime,’ she said.
‘I saw my oldest son Justin for the first time just before Christmas. I haven’t met my son Jonathan yet because he is in the navy.’
Mrs Denicola is amazed by how tiny mobile phones are and has had to be retaught how to use them. She even thought her computer was a TV.
‘The last TV I remember was a box on the floor, and you had to go up and change the channel,’ she said.
‘But now our TV is hanging on the wall, and it is very narrow and thin. Watching TV is a whole new experience. There are way too many commercials.’
‘The last computer I remember was in the school library. It was a big white box and you put a floppy disk in it for information.’
Although flabbergasted by 2019 technology, Mrs Denicola has mixed thoughts on Facebook.
‘It can be fun but it also seems like people argue a lot and fuss a lot, and tell their personal business a lot,’ she said.
Mrs Denicola’s husband has also been slowly educating her on modern politics.
‘I didn’t know who Donald Trump was and I didn’t know who Barack Obama or Bill Clinton were either,’ she said.
‘It’s been very interesting to see how different it is from the 80s now, how much things have changed.’
Despite her ordeal, Mrs Denicola is determined to stay positive about the future.
‘I have been through so much pain but my husband and my family’s support has seen me through it,’ she said.
‘Maybe one day I’ll get those memories back, maybe I won’t. But I’m taking each day as it comes.’
‘I am slowly putting names and faces together, and I’m learning how to live in 2019.’