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Woman Who Forgot Her Own Wedding Day Due To Brain Bug Becomes Competitive Figure Skater After Remarkable Recovery

PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT

A woman who forgot her wedding day and thought the year was 1860 after a brain bug wiped her memory has made a remarkable recovery – becoming a competitive figure skater, despite still only having 80 per cent recall.


Outdoor activities instructor Vickie Harkness, 29, of Carlisle, Cumbria, said her problems began with a week of seizures – the first of which left her convinced she had just “been to the moon" – making doctors think she had a heart or mental health problem.

But tests showed she had encephalitis, a life-threatening condition causing the brain to swell, according to the NHS, and producing stroke-like symptoms, which she believes developed from a flu bug and says turned her into " a zombie."

With her family alerted and prepared to say their goodbyes, remarkably Vickie recovered, regaining 80 per cent of her memory, although she still cannot remember her wedding day to tyre builder Shona Harkness, 30, four years ago.

Vickie said:

“I'd always been a fit and healthy person, then it just changed in March 2016."

“It started with fatigue and I thought I was getting the flu, but Shona thought I might have been depressed, as I stopped laughing. Normally I find everything funny, but I stopped. It was like I couldn't think for myself."

Vickie HarknessPA REAL LIFE/COLLECT

Vickie said:

“I kept saying things like 'I need to send a Mother's Day card,' even though Mother's Day had gone."
“Shona would tell me where she was going, but 10 minutes later I'd phone her and ask her, 'Where are you going?'"
“I just started responding less and less."

A week of seizures followed, the cause of which left medical professionals stumped.

Vickie recalled:

“Apparently, after I had my first seizure, I came round and Shona asked me what happened. I said, 'I've just been to the moon.' I genuinely believed I'd been there."
“A week after the seizures started I was admitted to Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle and they performed a lumber puncture – when a large needle is used to extract fluid from the spine for testing – which came back positive for encephalitis and I was transferred to Newcastle Royal Victoria Infirmary."

Vickie Harkness playing guitarPA REAL LIFE/COLLECT

Vickie recalled:

“They don't know what caused it – just that my body was producing too many white blood cells. I think I got it from flu and my body was trying to fight it."

Soon after being admitted to hospital, things took a turn for the worse and Vickie's organs started to shut down, forcing doctors to put her in an induced coma for a week.

Her family and friends were told to prepare for the worst, but Vickie kept fighting – although her loved ones were warned she could be left severely disabled and “probably wouldn't be the same person."

Vickie Harkness in hospitalPA REAL LIFE/COLLECT

When she woke up, her short and long term memory had disappeared and she needed round the clock care.

“At first, I couldn't speak. It was like I'd turned into a zombie and Shona was told I'd probably need to go into a care home, but she told them the only home she's going to is our home," said Vickie.

“But I gradually started to improve. I remember when Shona asked me, 'Do you want to come home Vic?' and I nodded."
“It was so strange, because I knew when people were my friends and family, because of feeling something for them – but I didn't actually know exactly who they were. I knew I loved Shona, even though I didn't know who she was."

Vickie Harkness figure skatingPA REAL LIFE/COLLECT

Vickie continued:

“I couldn't control my body anymore, so had to use a catheter, and I would say strange things. The doctors asked me what year it was and I said 1860."

After three months – with a promise from Shona and their friends that they would provide care 24/7 – Vickie was allowed to go home.

She explained:

“I was a really independent person and not being able to do anything for myself was awful."

Vickie HarknessPA REAL LIFE/COLLECT

“I had to keep a diary of what I'd done the day before. I would read it and realize I couldn't remember what I'd done yesterday. That was such a weird feeling," explained Vickie.

“Doctors would come to my house asking me to do things like make spaghetti Bolognese, but I'd completely forgotten how to."
“I couldn't remember anything from my childhood. It was like my memory had been erased. I used to play guitar and write little songs, but I couldn't do that anymore."
“I'd forgotten how to do the things that made me myself. The feeling is indescribable and I was embarrassed that I'd forgotten this stuff."

Her turning point came in October 2016, when she tried to get to the bus stop outside her home and ended up at a supermarket 15 minutes away – phoning Shona in tears to come and pick her up.

“I decided then that I had to train my brain. I would use my sat nav to get to places and gradually do it on my own, relearning all the things I'd forgotten," she said.

She continued:

“I had to relearn how to tie my shoelaces and brush my teeth. I'd been taking driving lessons and had my test booked, but only recently I had to start from the beginning. I couldn't feel hungry. I ate when I was told to."
“It's thinking for yourself and figuring out what you need and want, which people take for granted every day. Not knowing what you want is terrifying."
“You feel nothing. It's so strange – you know you're sad, but you do not feel sad. It was a really empty awful feeling – like I'd forgotten who I was."

Vickie Harkness playing guitarPA REAL LIFE/COLLECT

Memories started to return, but they were disordered.

She had flashbacks to a time she was caught up in a storm in Maryland, USA, while living there when she was 21, or to dance routines she learned at college.

And while doctors were keen to get back to basics, Vickie was determined to rebuild her personality – learning how to play the guitar, walk her dogs and go hiking.

Vickie HarknessPA REAL LIFE/COLLECT

“I felt that if I learned how to do those things again I would be me again," she explained.

“That's why I decided to try figure skating again. It's something I had done as a child. My friend took me to the ice rink and asked if I remembered it. Before I knew it I was doing little spins."
“As I started doing it, the memories came flooding back and I remembered things like getting medals when I was a little girl."

“I said to my friend, 'I used to do this didn't I?' I couldn't remember but I just felt like I had," she said.

“As soon as I started training properly I remembered how to do everything."

Vickie found a coach and told him she was going to enter the British Figure Skating Championships, competing in the pre-bronze category, held in Sheffield in April – just three years after her stay in hospital.

Vickie Harkness and wife ShonaPA REAL LIFE/COLLECT

She said:

“I didn't have extra lessons or anything, I just did it myself. I told Shona, 'I'm doing this'. Once I set my mind to something I have to do it."
“I was nervous and wasn't placed very high, but I was so happy that I managed to do it and I plan to keep skating."

Alongside her skating, Vickie has also obtained an NVQ qualification in childcare – in half the time it usually takes – and is back at work as an outdoor activities instructor.

Vickie Harkness trainingPA REAL LIFE/COLLECT

Now she is raising awareness of the condition and has also been organizing a charity fun day to raise money for Newcastle Victoria Royal Infirmary, the hospital she credits with saving her life.

Despite her admirable achievements, Vickie still wishes she could remember her wedding day to Shona, who she has been with for eight years, which took place in May 2015 at the Hallmark Hotel in Carlisle.

She said:

“It's so sad. My friend showed me a photo – a picture of my bridesmaids and Shona's best men and I feel like I am starting to remember. I'm determined it will come back to me."

Vickie Harkness and wife ShonaPA REAL LIFE/COLLECT

Vickie added:

“Shona is my rock. I trust her with my life and don't know where I'd be without her. She protected me throughout my illness and made sure I felt safe."
“She kept faith in me and knew I would come back because she kept getting little glimmers of me. I couldn't ask for a better wife."