“I felt like I had, like, a blank slate.”
This is Max Meehan, a 27-year-old heroin addict from eastern Massachusetts:
One night in 2012, Max went out drinking and also did heroin. The next morning, he woke up unable to form new memories.
His doctors found that he had an ultra-rare form of brain damage.
The damage was perfectly localized, on each side of Max's brain, to the hippocampus, the seahorse-shaped area that encodes new memories.
“I’ve been seeing patients for 20 years,” said Yuval Zabar, the neurologist who saw Max at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in Burlington, Massachusetts. “I can’t recall ever seeing that before.”
After doing some memory tests, Zabar diagnosed Max with amnesia, though he and the rest of the doctors on staff still have no idea what caused it.
Max's brain scan courtesy Lahey Hospital and Medical Center
After the amnesia hit, Max had to drop out of school and quit his job waiting tables. He moved back in with his mom, who helped take care of him as his memory slowly got better.
“I was terrified to think of going to work and having him being home alone,” his mom, Laura Frongillo, said. She worried he would forget to turn off the oven, or even worse — that he would overdose again.