Garden Therapy Inspires Recovery

After surgey steals her memory, a woman learns how to live again through her garden.

| August/September 2002

Can you identify this plant for me?” the lady asked as she took a seat beside me. We were on a bus tour of Texas herb businesses, winding our way through the Texas hill country to see herb farms and greenhouses. We were eager to learn what each business made or grew.

“I hope you don’t mind my sitting here,” the lady said. “I have a photo of a plant that I hope you might help me identify. I understand that we know each other.”

Gem, an acquaintance from several years earlier, continued her conversation by telling me that she was aware that we knew each other, but she hoped I would be forgiving if she didn’t recall just how we were acquainted. “You see,” she said, “I had surgery for a brain tumor two years ago and it left me without my memories. I’m slowly putting together new ones day to day.”

Gem told me that doctors initially believed she was suffering from a form of Alzheimer’s disease because her short-term memory had disappeared rapidly. Eventual testing revealed a large benign tumor and surgery was of high risk. The medical team warned her that she had only about a 50 percent chance of surviving the surgery, but there were no other reasonable options for treatment. Fortunately, Gem survived the surgery.

“But when I woke up,” she said, “large areas of my memories were no longer there. They had taken away nearly 25 percent of the volume of my brain.” In the weeks after surgery, Gem didn’t recognize her husband or other family members. She could speak a few words but had no idea what the words meant. Even stranger, she occasionally slipped back into speaking Spanish, a language she had learned when living in South America but no longer used.

She didn’t recognize everyday objects. She had completely lost her ability to walk. Gem explained that she began therapy immediately, mostly aimed at helping her brain compensate by learning to store memory in the areas not affected by the tumor and its removal.

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