Whether it’s by starting a new job, pursuing college, or just ironing out details that will launch them into the next phases of life, most 19-year-olds are just on the cusp of solidifying their identities. That age is the perfect time to re-examine relationships and start fresh.
But one 19-year-old from England, on the other hand, had a comfortable job, a loving family, and a fantastic relationship. She was at ease with the life she’d just barely begun… until she suffered a medical anomaly that called into question everything she knew…
Jessica Sharman, 19 years 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 diagnosed with epilepsy at 14 years old, but it never really impacted her before). The doctors still had more grave news to give.
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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 be 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.”