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Memory Loss Sparks A Plan For Running, And Living

Filed by KOSU News in US News.
November 4, 2011

Remembering even the smallest details of her life can be hard for Gweneviere Mann. She has suffered from short-term memory loss since 2008, caused by complications from an operation. But that’s not enough to stop Mann and her boyfriend, Yasir Salem, from running a marathon — with a unique strategy.

Recently, Mann, 41, sat down with Salem, 34, to talk about her daily life.

“I always have a note card in my pocket that tells me what the date is,” she says. “And I have to write down when I eat meals, because sometimes I might eat lunch three times because I don’t remember that I ate already.”

Mann’s memory loss began when she underwent surgery several years ago to remove a brain tumor. During the procedure, she had a stroke. She has had short-term memory loss ever since.

“The doctors say the brain can continue healing up to two years,” she says, “but whatever is not back by that point is not likely to ever come back.”

Salem asks, “So you had your surgery in November of 2008, right?”

“Right. And so, I’m going to have to live the rest of my life this way,” Mann says. “And the thing that scares me the most is, like, the thought that I will wake up one day, and I’ll be 80 years old — and I won’t remember the last 40 years of my life.”

“Do you remember when you first came out of surgery?” Salem asks.

“I know that I used to always think that I was in San Francisco,” Mann says.

“What are those things called, do you remember?” Salem says.

“Confabulations.”

“Yeah.”

In the field of memory loss, a confabulation is defined as an invented memory of an event that never occurred — or an actual event that is remembered as happening in a different time or place.

Mann asks Salem, “Do you remember another confabulation that I used to have?”

“You used to think that your co-worker, Barbara, was your mom …” Salem answers.

“Oh, that’s right,” Mann says with a laugh.

“… even though she’s a completely different race than you,” Salem says.

“That’s funny, yeah,” Mann says.

“There was one point where you were confused,” Salem says, “because you thought we had broken up. And I would ask you, like, ‘Why do you think you’re staying at my place?’ She’s like, ‘Well, we’re just cool like that.’ “

“Yeah. Sorry about that,” Mann says, laughing.

“That’s all right.”

“And after all you’d been doing for me,” Mann says.

“Thankfully you got over that.”

“I’m thankful for that, as well,” she says.

Salem asks, “So, is there any positive things that have come out of losing your memory that you can look back on?”

“Well, I ran the New York City Marathon with you, my boyfriend,” Mann says. “And one of the things that I asked you, was to help me — as a trick — to not let me look at any of the mile markers along the way. And if I asked you how long we’d been running — to always tell me 10 or 15 minutes.”

She laughs at the thought of running more than 26 miles, using that strategy.

“And it really worked like a charm,” Mann says. “And when we got to the end, you and I were running across the finish line … and as if on cue, I started crying my eyes out. Because I was so happy.”

The couple will be running their second marathon in New York City this Sunday.

“You know, I have spent a lot of days since my injury comparing myself to what I used to be and feeling sad about the things that I’ve lost,” she says. “But doing the marathon really shows me that I still have a lot left in me.”

The New York City Marathon offers spectators the chance to follow runners remotely.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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