We often take our own flourishing health for granted. The lucky ones among us walk, run, eat, sleep, and work without thinking about how these mundane, everyday activities don’t come as easy to those with compromised abilities. But in the blink of an eye, these blessings can be taken from us. The universe works in mysterious ways, and sometimes it isn’t on our side.
When a sprightly California mom was shopping with her husband and 1-year-old daughter, something awful took over her body out of nowhere. Though she thought she was in perfect health, she soon found out otherwise, after an agonizing fight in the hospital that threatened her life.
It was on June 29, 2019, that Shannon McCook walked into San Francisco toy store with her baby daughter, Adelei, and husband, Ryan Peterson. She looked forward to a relaxing day full of laughs. It was anything but that.
Because in the aisles of the toy store, Shannon began convulsing and bleeding from the mouth. Her shocked husband used his quick hand-eye coordination to catch her as she stumbled into a rack of greeting cards.
Shannon McCook / Facebook
“It happened so fast,” Ryan told People. “She started violently shaking. I started screaming for help – I didn’t know what was going on.” Amidst the chaos, emergency services were contact.
An ambulance immediately brought the 36-year-old mom to Sutter’s California Pacific Medical Center, where she had another seizure while undergoing an MRI. The next two months would be a living nightmare for the hapless mom, a nightmare involving more than 50 seizures.
Unbelievably, aside from her horrific collection of seizures, Shannon experienced intense hallucinations, psychotic episodes, and memory loss while in the hospital. The specifics were horrifying.
Her hallucinations would often be dark and debilitating, wiping her memory clean like a hard drive, and leaving her unable to walk or talk. “It was a very frightening feeling that I wasn’t in control of my body anymore. I lost sense of who I was,” Shannon told People.
Because Shannon didn’t even know herself, she couldn’t grasp onto any vital details about her life as a whole either. “I lost my grip on reality,” she says. “I didn’t know my name or where I was from or that I had a husband,” she explained.
“I just felt these horrifying monsters had kidnapped me and were planning on killing me. I physically fought back against them, kicking and screaming and biting. I had bruises months later on my hands and arms from where I had to be restrained,” she continued of the daunting experience.
After much deliberation by doctors, Shannon was diagnosed with autoimmune encephalitis, which is a rare condition that causes the immune system to attack the brain’s healthy cells and tissues. But something still wasn’t adding up.
Though this condition is often caused by a viral infection, the cause is not determined in every case. “It was only 20 years ago that we thought the vast majority of encephalitis cases were all [caused by] viruses,” said one of Shannon’s neurologists, Dr. Prashanth Ramachandran.
“We’ve now realized that 30-40% of known cases are autoimmune,” continued Dr. Prashanth Ramachandran. Though there is no known cure for this condition, treatment involves containing the immune system to help curb inflammation.
Johns Hopkins Medicine
Meanwhile, Shannon’s sweet husband showed her old photos from their wedding and the birth of their daughter (likely through tears) in an attempt to trigger her fond memories. He was desperate to bring back his wife, who was hidden somewhere within the shell of a human Shannon became.
Shannon McCook / Facebook
“I felt that it was all a lie. I didn’t even believe that I had a child,” Shannon explained. And though this catastrophe seemed to spontaneously hit Shannon in the aisles of a toy store, looking back, she noticed signs that something was wrong months earlier. Hindsight is 20/20.
Shannon McCook / Facebook
Shannon remembered feeling oddly moody and depressed, which was out of character for her. “I had feelings of paranoia — even around my friends, emotional mood swings and I would cry myself to sleep sometimes,” Shannon said.
Since it’s understandable that Shannon didn’t immediately assume she had a rare autoimmune condition, she connected her unusual moodiness to the stresses of being a new mother on top of her normal job. She had no idea that something awful was brewing inside her.
Shannon McCook / Facebook
“Mental health symptoms are often under recognized. Having prominent memory difficulties and marked sudden changes in personality are subtle clues that there could be something going on beyond depression,” said another one of Shannon’s neurologists, Dr. Maulik Shah.
Within just two weeks at the hospital, medication brought the inflammation in Shannon’s brain down, and her memory slowly started coming back to her. Pleased doctors were ready to send her to Alta Bates Summit Medical Center Regional Inpatient Acute Rehabilitation Center in Oakland, California.
Shannon McCook / Facebook
It was all playing out like the beginning of a successful recovery, until Shannon suddenly had an allergic reaction to one of her anti-seizure medications. She had a high fever, a burning rash, and swelling in her body that soon reached her internal organs. The nightmare wasn’t over.
Shannon McCook / Facebook
“It was a really scary touch-and-go week. Doctors sat me down and started talking about mortality rates,” Ryan said. Though it was a frightening time, Shannon was finally healthy enough to be transferred to a rehab facility on August 16th. The road to a full recovery would be tough.
At the rehabilitation center, Shannon went through a tedious, laborious process of relearning basic, everyday skills, such as how to read, write, and walk. “It was really challenging— like dusting off old memories,” she said of the experience.
She reunited with her family at home come September, though she was still on the road to recovery. Not only was Shannon taking up to 30 pills a day, but her memory was still fuzzy, and she’d still experience the occasional seizure.
Shannon McCook / Facebook
“He still cries every time I have a seizure, he feels so bad,” she said of her worried husband. Though Shannon sadly hasn’t been able to return to her job as a branded content editor, she’s making strides in her out-patient therapy program.
We can only imagine the piling mountain of medical bills poor Shannon and Ryan had to deal with, so their dear friend set up a GoFundMe page to help with the never-ending expenses, which include monthly IV infusions to advance her immune system.
Shannon found that the most difficult part of her period of anguish was losing precious time with her daughter, who turned 2 in December 2019. “Ryan will point out different things that I’ve taught her and I don’t remember teaching her those things. That’s so heartbreaking,” she said.
But she remembers more and more each day. “I’m just grateful to be alive, home and rediscovering myself. You have to stay positive. Despite it all, you have to own whatever it is that you’re going through. You’re still you,” an optimistic Shannon explained.
We can all learn a thing or two from Shannon McCook’s outlook, despite the fact that most of us know nothing of what it’s like to endure a horrific grand mal seizure. But “most of us” does not include Camre Curto. Shannon and Camre have experienced a similar hell.
Shannon McCook / Facebook
Steve Curto had everything. With a stunning wife, and a sweet little bundle of joy on the way, life was a fairy tale. Unfortunately, everything was just too good to be true for these young love birds.
My City Magazine
In 2015, 31-year-old Camre Curto, Steve’s wife, was in the midst of a seemingly normal, healthy pregnancy. She and Steve couldn’t wait to meet their angel. All was swell, until her third trimester rolled around and threatened to destroy their sense of euphoria.
Her third trimester brought on violent, frequent vomiting, which was alarming to say the least; but it didn’t end there. The real nightmare began exactly 33 weeks into Camre’s pregnancy.
At the 33 week mark, Camre’s throat began to swell, quickly limiting her ability to breathe. In a panic, Steve zoomed his wife to the hospital. Sadly, Camre went into a a grand mal seizure.
Due to the severity of her condition, doctors had to perform an emergency c-section. They delivered Gavin early, weighing just over four pounds. Thankfully, little Gavin would be just fine. However, Camre’s suffering wasn’t close to over.
Camre didn’t only endure a seizure, she also had a debilitating stroke. With both sides of her brain affected, her memories were wiped out like a nearly-due term paper on a laptop at 3:00 in the morning.
50 First Dates
After the incident, doctors figured out that Camre had undiagnosed preeclampsia, “a pregnancy-related high blood pressure disorder which reduces blood supply to the fetus,” according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The seizure was a result of Camre going into eclampsia. She was then intubated and put into a medically-induced coma. But when doctors brought her out of the coma, something was off from the get go.
According to Camre’s occupational therapist, Jessica Smith, Camre’s long and short-term memory were gone as a result. Camre’s life was about to change forever, and Steve couldn’t believe it. His wife no longer knew who he was, let alone who she was.
“She couldn’t recall memories prior to her brain injury and she can’t remember short-term memories now,” relayed Smith, a therapist at Ann Arbor, Michigan’s Galaxy Brain and Therapy Center. Moving forward, life would be difficult and frustrating for the couple.
“She had no idea who she was or that she had just given birth. She didn’t know who I was or who her parents were,” Steve said. As her husband and the father of her beautiful child, his sadness must’ve been off the charts.
Camre was stuck in the hospital for 30 days after giving birth, while little Gavin spent 36 days in the NICU. You’d think they were in it together, but Camre and her newborn son were sadly separated. Steve acted as the maternal figure during Gavin’s first days.
Good Morning America
“They want the child to bond with the mom after birth but Camre couldn’t, so I did skin-to-skin with him and did all the feedings,” Steve said. He soon realized that he’d sort of be a single father for a while.
While Camre was recovering, relearning how to get dressed and brush her teeth, at her parents’ house, Steve was at his and his wife’s home, taking care of their son. While she would often visit Steve and Gavin, it was all too odd.
“You just have hope that it’s going to be okay. That was my mindset,” explained Steve. Though it’s wonderful that he stayed so positive, dark thoughts would constantly creep in his head, haunting his faith in his marriage. Could it withstand this tragedy?
This story mimics movies like 2012’s The Vow, which is based on a true story and a book. This kind of traumatic memory loss situation doesn’t happen often, but when it does happen, it heavily strains previously-healthy marriages.
Steve Curto would do anything to get his wife back; to make her remember the 10 beautiful years they spent together. He wasn’t sure how they’d go on, but he would do everything in his power to keep their relationship sturdy.
One day, when Steve and his wife were chatting on the couch, Camre sweetly told her unfamiliar hubby “I don’t know who you are but I know I love you.” That small but powerful sentence became Steve’s positive affirmation.
With years of help from occupational therapist Jessica Smith, Steve being present for nearly every appointment like the supportive spouse he is, Camre eventually relearned the mundane know-hows of life, like how to cook and change a diaper.
“When I first met her she was there, but not really there. She was a shell. Now she’s got her personality back and she’s able to be a mom to Gavin, which is the best thing to see,” Smith said of Camre’s progress.
While Camre has perfected personal coping mechanisms and techniques, such as jotting things down, she credits Steve and Gavin’s presence and support as a vital part of her recovery.
“Every time I see Gave and Steve, there’s a huge smile on my face. The love of family is getting me through every day,” Camre explained. But, while she was making strides, she still couldn’t remember her history with Steve.
Sadly, Camre also had epilepsy and suffered from frequent seizures. To complicate things even more, the medications that help control her seizures may affect her memory, which made it difficult to tell how much of her memory recovered over time. It was an extremely frustrating period.
500 Days of Summer
It was about two years after the frightening brain injury that it truly became clear to Camre that she couldn’t hold onto her memories. She realized that she’d lost so many precious milestones and moments, ones that could never be recreated.
“Memories are everything to us and most people take them for granted, I know I did. That’s one reason I’m sharing the story,” Steve said. And boy did he share their story…
Steve wrote a book dedicated to his and his wife’s relationship, detailing their entire love story from beginning to end. The touching book highlighted their first date, their wedding day, and the birth of their son.
Steve self-published the book, which he called But I Know I Love You. He released it on their fourth wedding anniversary in 2019. Camre must’ve felt confused, touched, sad, and happy, all wrapped into one weird emotional state.
“Everything in the book is a memory of what we’ve gone through and what I’ve missed. I enjoy [reading] it very much, but right now with everything it’s kind of mixed feelings,” she explained of her complicated emotions to Good Morning America.
“No matter how hard things are or have been and can be, you just have to give yourself hope and keep going, taking each day at a time. I just tell myself everything is going to be okay and I move toward that,” Camre continued.
Facebook / But I Know I Love You
Camre’s journey has been a tough one. Though losing every single little memory sounds like a nightmare, Camre had the immediate reassurance and diagnosis from doctors. Well, imagine spontaneously losing all of your memories while riding public transit, not a single doctor in sight.
Sadly, Jessica Sharman would experience this hell. The 19-year-old was living happily with her parents Gary and Lisa in the quaint English town of Tunbridge Wells, Kent. She had established herself at an office job in London and was eager for the future.
There was another bonus that made her job a touch more special: Rich Bishop, her 25-year-old boyfriend, worked in her office, too. In fact, they met at work and had been dating for 7 months.
Everyday Rich and Jessica took the train from Tunbridge Wells into London together. The hour-long train ride gave the couple time to chat and prepare for the workday ahead.
On March 3rd, 2016, Jessica and Rich boarded the train and settled into their seats. They had made it almost to London making their usual conversation, but before the train reached the station, the ride took a terrifying turn…
Mid-sentence, Jessica stopped responding. Her body slumped into her seat. Rigid, eyes clouded, Rich couldn’t get her to speak. Her eyes were open, but she was completely unaware.
Stuck in the middle of a crowded train, he was at a complete loss. Thankfully, they pulled into the station moments later, and Rich then guided a still-unresponsive Jessica to their office. There, he called Jessica’s parents and urged them to come to London.
Her parents arrived soon after. Lisa ran to her daughter and tried to hug her, but Jessica recoiled: she didn’t recognize her mother! Trying to jog her memory, Lisa swiped through photos of the family on her phone. Jessica saw her arms around her supposed “loved ones,” but she wasn’t familiar with any of them — or her own face.
Jessica’s memory was blank. “I was faced with strangers claiming to be family,” she said, “telling me things about myself that meant nothing to me.” She trusted the people calling themselves her parents. What other choice did she have?
The next day her parents brought her to the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London. The doctors admitted her at once and kept her for a week of observation. Her family hoped for answers.
Doctors determined Jessica had retrograde amnesia brought on by epilepsy. She suffered a series of seizures on the train that effectively wiped her memory clean. (Jessica had been diagnosed with epilepsy at 14 years old, but it never really impacted her before). The doctors still had more grave news to give.
Hie Help Center
They told Jessica that it could take up to six months for her brain to recover her memories, and even still, there was a chance she would never regain her 19 years worth of experiences. She said, “My head was spinning, it felt like I was in a horror film.”
Jessica was faced with the daunting task of relearning her life. “I felt so alone with no idea of my personality, my strengths, and weaknesses, or my likes and dislikes.” Family, friends, and Rich, in particular, were determined to help Jessica move forward.
But Rich was now a stranger to Jessica, and she felt nothing for him. She ended the relationship two weeks after he diagnoses. Though gutted, Rich was determined to fight for their love.
He convinced Jessica to let him woo her again. “Seeing how passionate and caring he was finally convinced me he must care for me,” she recalled, “so I agreed to give it a shot.” Jessica barely knew the man, but his pain at losing her was too great to ignore.
Much like the movie 50 First Dates, Rich hatched a plan to rekindle their love. The couple went to restaurants they had loved before the seizures. He took her on long walks through the park and told her all about how they fell for each other.
It didn’t take long for Jessica’s fears and doubts about Rich to fall away.”I don’t remember the first time I fell in love with Rich,” she said, “but I do remember the second.” His patience and dedication to her, when it would’ve been so easy to call it quits, made her fall in love all over again.
Even with Rich by her side, Jessica still had to fill in the blanks about every part of her identity. Every aspect of her personality was a mystery. Her strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, all of it was gone.
Jessica met all her friends again for the first time. She tried to adjust to everyone treating her with familiarity. In the end, the kindness and persistence of her once-closest loved ones helped her regain a sense of normalcy.
Six months after the seizures, Jessica still had no recollection of her past memories. “I’ve had to relearn everything about those close to me — and doctors say there’s a 50 percent chance I could lose my memory all over again.”
The possibility of losing her memories again didn’t stop Jessica from enjoying what she had. Her loved ones showed her you can overcome anything. “…Rich was able to make me fall in love with him twice,” Jessica said, “so I know he could do it again.”