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February 1, 2013

Virginia woman pieces together 17 years lost to amnesia

When Shawnda Rush woke up in her one-story house overlooking the fields and woods of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, she could see a cane leaning against the bedside table and the sunshine through the sheer white curtains. But the world that lay outside the room was a mystery to her.

She heard footsteps outside the doorway and tensed when around the corner and up to the edge of the bed crept a sandy-haired toddler, who appeared no older than 1 or 2.

"Mommy?" the child cooed.

Shawnda panicked. She didn't recognize the girl but played it cool and greeted her.

Where am I? Shawnda thought. Why can't I remember her?

She felt weak, and grabbed the cane and limped into the living room. Everything was quiet except the murmur of a television. A chair sat by the front door. She noted the two sofas and how they were positioned. In the kitchen, she saw a man. His back was toward her.

"Then I realized he must be my husband," she recalled.

Shawnda knew who she was, and she could recognize her mother upon waking that morning in April 2005, but her husband and her daughter were lost to a large, dark gap in her mind.

Shawnda at first kept her confusion to herself. Over the ensuing weeks, though, she revealed to her mom, Marsha Rush, the breach in her memory. Marsha started sharing the details of Shawnda's life with her: that she was 30, that she had been married for about three years and that she had a 19-month-old daughter, Shaylin. And that a doctor had diagnosed Shawnda's multiple sclerosis almost a year before. For several months, she had been having cognitive problems: forgetfulness, confusion, feelings of helplessness, loss of vocabulary. Apparently, that had become amnesia.

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