Who am I: Holly

Moving Forward

"Twenty-four years ago, I took a date rape drug and it put me into a coma, and I woke up and had complete and total amnesia. I couldn't remember anything about my life," says Holly. She had to relearn to walk, talk, read and write. "I had to learn the names of my family. They put food in front of me, and I didn't know what to do with it. I was hungry and I just looked at it. They said they had to put a fork in my hand and show me how to use a fork again."

 

When Amy awoke from her coma, she spoke a little Spanish, which was a surprise to her and her family. "My family spoke no Spanish, so I had to learn English as a second language," she shares.

 

In studio, Dr. Phil asks Holly, "How did you get in this situation as you understand it?"

Holly says she was out with friends and had a terrible headache. When a stranger incessantly offered her aspirin, she accepted it but had no intention of ingesting it. "Later, when I got back to where I was staying, rather than turn the light on and wake everyone up, I did take it," Holly says.

"Do you have any idea today what it was?" Dr. Phil asks.

"They don't know," she says. "My family, rather than doing all the spinal taps and everything that would be necessary, decided not to do intensive testing because they were so worried I was in a coma."

"What did you learn about the changes to your brain after the fact?" Dr. Phil asks.

"When I woke up from the coma, I was a completely different person," she says, reiterating that she had to learn basic functioning again.

Not only does Holly suffer from amnesia, she is also fighting another condition that has hindered her life dramatically.

"When I was 24 years old, I was in a terrible car accident. I died. I was revived, and they believe, due to the loss of oxygen when I was unconscious, there was some damage to a part of my brain, and this damage resulted in no visual memory," Holly shares.

Having no visual memory means that Holly is unable to visually remember anything she sees. "I can't remember what my mother looks like. I can't remember what my car looks like. I can't remember what my boyfriend looks like. I can't remember what my apartment looks like. I can only remember what something looks like if I'm looking directly at it. The moment I look away, my brain forgets what it looks like," Holly explains. "I know how to get home not by following visual landmarks, but I have to follow street signs, and if I'm not paying attention to street signs, I'll go right by where I live."

 

Holly says her condition can make her depressed if she dwells on it. "I can get very sad. If I think about I don't have memories of my childhood, or I don't have a visual memory now, it can upset me, so I have to work very hard at remembering the things that I do have; the things that I can have," she says.

"You've made the effort to accommodate to these things, and essentially move on with what you have and who you are at this point, right?" Dr. Phil asks Holly.

"Absolutely," she says.

"What's been the hardest thing for you?" Dr. Phil asks.

"Telling other people what's happened in my past," she says. "I wake up every day and I say, ‘This is who I am, and this is what I have,' and I just keep going."

Dr. Phil asks Holly to give an example of what it's like not having a visual memory.

"Right now when I'm looking at you, I know what you look like. The moment I close my eyes, I have no idea what you look like," Holly says.

"If you passed me on the street later today, would you recognize me?" Dr. Phil asks.

"I would not," Holly replies.

"If I said, ‘Hey, Holly. It's Dr. Phil,' then you would remember all the things that we talked about?" Dr. Phil asks.

"Absolutely. I have a great memory. I would remember every part of our conversation, I would just have trouble recognizing you," Holly says.

Dr. Phil asks Holly, "As one person experiencing this to another, what does Ben need to do? What's worked for you?"

Turning toward Benjaman, Holly says, "Every day, when I wake up, I say to myself, ‘What new memory will I create today?'" She adds that she records her memories by taking pictures, writing in a journal and sharing her experiences with others. She chooses not to focus on what's she's forgotten but on creating something new.

"Are you still working to regain memory?" Dr. Phil asks Holly.

"One day, I had to say, ‘Stop.' Absolutely not," she says. "I did regain two memories in my life, so I have two memories from my first 19 years."

"There are technologies today that are very advanced " such as hyperbaric chambers and things of that nature " that have proven to have some effectiveness in this type of thing," Dr. Phil says.

"I've never chosen that path, and I guess I didn't know there were new technologies," Holly says.

Dr. Phil introduces Dr. Frank Lawlis, chairman of the Dr. Phil Advisory Board, and asks him to explain some of the new treatments for regaining memory.

"What we know, especially now with brain plasticity, is that you can actually create more growth. Your brain can grow in terms of having new memory facility as well as recovering some memories," Dr. Lawlis says. "There is the hyperbaric chamber which forces oxygen into your brain and helps it come back to life. There's also neurotherapy which stimulates and gives you more control over your life."

"I didn't know about that," Holly says. "I'm interested. I won't put all my hope into it."

Dr. Phil asks Benjaman, "If we make some resources available to you back home that can help you, and work with you and try to enhance your ability to recover some of these existing memories, would you like to do that?"

"Yes," he replies.

Dr. Phil offers Holly the same resources.