McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

National News

February 1, 2013

Virginia woman pieces together 17 years lost to amnesia

(Continued)

"She was pretty headstrong; she wasn't going to let anybody run over her," said Marsha, who tells a story of the old Shawnda going to a Halloween party in a pig costume. The host was having trouble with a drunk, belligerent girl who wouldn't leave. Guests asked Shawnda, the deputy, to take care of her.

"She put the girl down to the ground in a chokehold and told her not to come back in," she said. "When Shawnda came back in the pig costume, it looked like she had wallowed in the dirt."

The new Shawnda went to physical therapy and gradually was able to exercise again. Arduous daily sessions restored muscles that had atrophied, eventually allowing her to walk without a cane, and to carry her daughter and the groceries.

Shawnda went to therapy to learn how to speak like a woman her age, rather than with the teenage vocabulary she'd been left with. "She was very intelligent when she was young," Marsha said. "She knew computer technology; she had her schooling. Her vocabulary was a whole lot better. Today it's still not as great — some words she still has to look up. Simple words."

In speech therapy, Shawnda relearned basic arithmetic, performed flashcard exercises to enhance her vocabulary, and learned how to use a checkbook. Outside of therapy, she bought a pocket dictionary and would question Shaylin about the words she learned from the TV show "Dora the Explorer." Finding out that she had known Spanish in her past life was a bittersweet revelation.

"Just like I didn't know how to pump gas, I didn't know how to use a debit card, I couldn't do any of that stuff. So I had to learn."

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