The ability to make memories is one we usually take for granted, but without it, we’d lose sense of who we are. Time would blend together, and despite going through the motions of living life, every day would be the same blank slate as the last. What would you do? Who could you trust? And, most importantly, who would you be?
The ability to make memories is one we often take for granted — without it, you wouldn’t have known you’ve read the first part of this sentence before. For Riley Horner, life became a constant struggle to piece together the minutes, hours, and days that seemingly vanished into thin air — and it all began on June 11th.
Your Average Teen
But for 16 years before that, Riley was just another girl from Illinois. For a high school junior, juggling friends, classes, and a boyfriend was likely the heaviest thing on her mind.
A Night Out
So when the Future Farmers of America arrived in Springfield for their annual convention, Riley jumped at the chance to attend one of the concert events on June 11th. An evening filled with fun and music was exactly what Riley needed to unwind.
The energy was high as Riley danced through the mass of teens on the convention center floor, dodging crowdsurfers as they came tumbling past. Riley turned her head to make sure her friends were still with her, so she never saw the 150-pound body coming her way.
A Deadly Mistake
The crowdsurfer landed full-force on top of Riley, knocking her unconscious and sending her straight to the hospital. Surprisingly, the doctors released her after only an hour or so, claiming the injury was nothing more than a bump on the head. Then, she got in the car.
More Than A Bruise
On the ride home, Riley began convulsing in the backseat, prompting a sharp U-turn and rush back to the emergency room. Over the next few hours, another 30 to 45 seizures made things clear: this was no ordinary bump on the head.
In One Ear, Out The Other
When doctors stopped the convulsing, Riley awoke to find she had no recollection of anything after her injury. Her parents filled her in on the night’s events, though just a few hours later, she forgot all over again.
After further testing, doctors determined Riley was suffering from concussion-induced short-term memory loss, a common symptom of traumatic brain injuries. With time and healing, they believed Riley’s ability to retain memories would return. They were wrong.
It Only Gets Worse
In the weeks that followed, Riley showed no signs of improvement; every two hours, her brain would reset to those fateful minutes before her injury. Though she was able to speak and function as she had before, Riley was totally incapable of making new memories.
No Laughing Matter
Each day, Riley woke believing it was June 11th all over again and that she was still at the FFA concert with her friends. It was like the movie Groundhog Day come to life, though instead of a lighthearted comedy, this was a complete nightmare.
A Tragic Reality
“It’s like I’m broken,” the 16-year-old shared. “I’m not the same Riley… Anything that I’ve been through recently, it’s just not there and so when people talk about it it’s just really, it’s so confusing, because it didn’t happen to me.”
For the next several months, Riley and her mother Sarah traveled all over the country in search of an answer for her condition. Yet time and time again, they were met with the same response: doctors simply didn’t know what was wrong with her.
All the while, Riley had become increasingly dependent on a series of notes on her phone that summarized the events of the previous days. This practice, however, proved only somewhat effective — without her full cognitive capabilities, Riley’s chance of living a normal, independent life was slim to none.
A Heartbreaking Outlook
“If she doesn’t get her memory back, right now she’s probably okay, but a year or two years, you’re going to see a difference, she’ll still be a 16-year-old girl,” explained Sarah. “At that point, I just see her future is done.”
Then, on the four-month anniversary of Riley’s injury, something amazing happened. After word of the 16-year-old’s story was shared online, Cognitive FX, a post-concussion research center, reached out to Sarah with a startling claim: not only did they know what was wrong with Riley, but they could help her, too.
The Root of the Problem
And so, Riley and Sarah booked a flight to Provo, Utah, to meet with neuroscientist Dr. Mark Allen, who began by taking scans of Riley’s brain. The results revealed a lack of oxygen to the braincells as the cause of Riley’s memory loss — luckily, Dr. Allen had a quick fix.
A Simple Reboot
“We can coax the system back into working order,” explained Dr. Allen. “What happens is that little communication system breaks down, and it’s fixable and it’s really a minor issue, but it leads to major problems. The ultimate goal is to get the system back online.”
It’s A Start
For the next two weeks, Riley underwent regular sequences of coordination, memory, and intense physical exercises to improve cognitive function. By the end of the first week, Riley began making minor, food-related memories.
Good As New
Incredibly, by the midpoint of week two, Riley had recovered nearly all of her memory! “It’s truly a miracle, I don’t know what else to say!” Sarah shared with Fox 13. “She will have a future!”
Road To Recovery
Following her two-week stay, Riley was sent home to finish out a four-week treatment plan, followed by another four months of rehab. Inspired by Dr. Allen and those that’d helped in her recovery, Riley is now planning a rather unique way of giving back.
A New Calling
Having always wanted to pursue a career in medicine, Riley has set her sights on becoming a neuroscientist, eager to help others just as the doctors at Cognitive FX had helped her.
This article originally published on hermoments