I woke up and I'd forgotten 20 years – I had to grieve for dead relatives again & couldn't remember my kids' birthdays

CLAIRE Muffett-Reece, 43, a journalist, lives in Braintree, Essex, with husband Scott, 44, who runs a shop-fitting company, and sons Jack, 11, and Max, nine.

Here, she reveals what it was like living with encephalitis, a deadly inflammation of the brain, and how it caused her to lose 20 years of memories.

“Sobbing in my husband Scott’s arms, I listened in disbelief as he told me my uncle Michael had died of cancer three months before, my uncle Peter had passed away from a heart attack seven years ago, and my cousin Tash had died in 2018.

Apparently I’d already grieved for them all – but I didn’t remember. After suffering from encephalitis, a deadly inflammation of the brain, I’d lost over 20 years of memories.

My life was good prior to my brain injury.

I met Scott in a pub in 1995, and we’d been together ever since. We married in 2008 and had our sons Jack and Max, and my time was spent juggling school runs with interviewing celebrities as a magazine editor.

Things changed dramatically on Father’s Day 2021. According to Scott, I caught a cold from Max and went to bed early.

The next morning, he tried to wake me, but I wouldn’t stir. I was taken by ambulance to Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford, where seizures left me unconscious and I was put on a ventilator.

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My seizures continued while on life support, so I was transferred to Royal London Hospital for specialist help.

After tests, the neurologists confirmed my brain was swollen due to encephalitis, likely caused by the virus I’d picked up. Scott and my parents were told to prepare for the worst.

Luckily, a cocktail of medication controlled the seizures, and I came off life support after 16 nights.

Apparently, one of the first things I said was: ‘How are the cats?’ – only to be told they’d been put to sleep (one of them years before and the other a week before I’d fallen ill). From then on it became clear that around 20 years of memories had vanished.

Though I knew I had children I loved and recognised, I couldn’t remember giving birth, their birthdays, first days at school, their likes or dislikes.

Scott showed me photos of holidays, our home and our wedding day – none of which I could remember. The neurologists explained memory loss was a common side effect of encephalitis, with no guarantee they’d ever return.

Thankfully, I remembered everyone I knew – I don’t know how Scott would have coped if I’d thought he was a stranger. It was so weird looking at myself in the mirror, seeing wrinkles I didn’t recall having.

After five weeks in hospital I was discharged and reunited with Jack and Max, who hadn’t been allowed to visit because of the pandemic. However, my recovery had only just begun.

I couldn’t walk more than a few steps, relying on Scott to help me shower and dress.

This meant he had to take time off work to care for me, while also looking after the boys.

I felt helpless – and confused when family commented that I was more short-tempered than before, which was a side effect of my brain injury.

My friends were amazing, visiting me and recalling the laughs we’d had.

Sometimes a photo would ignite a flashback, but more often it was as if I’d not been there.

I also had no recollection of Covid, and was horrified to learn about 9/11 and the 7/7 bombings. It was frightening to find out about world-changing events I couldn’t recall.

Flicking through magazines, I was also amazed to read interviews I’d done with celebrities like Stacey Solomon.

I’m now in a much better place, but recovery is still a long way off. I rarely sleep through the night, waking with nerve pain and itching.

I’ve waved goodbye to my driving licence for two years, and am unable to cook alone in case I have a fit.

Scott has been incredible, reminding me to take my anti-seizure medication and holding me when the pain is overwhelming.

Jack and Max understand, and they talk to me about seeing their favourite movies or trips to see their grandparents in Spain. Every day, I learn things about them, such as food or music they like.

My career is slowly starting up again, and it was a relief to realise I hadn’t forgotten how to write when I interviewed a few celebrities – even if I had to Google who they were!

As for my lost memories, there’s still a tiny chance they could return, but if not, I’ll just have to make many happy new ones.”


ENCEPHALITIS has a high mortality rate and in many countries is more common than meningitis, MS and cerebral palsy.*

World Encephalitis Day is on February 22.

Visit Encephalitis.info for details.

Credits; Photography: James Rudland, James Davidson Source: *The Encephalitis Society

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