Thomas Leeds remembered his youthful mother smiling at him as they stood in front of a Christmas tree.
Thomas Leeds was only 19 years old when he was hit by a car in a horrific London accident. He was fortunate to have survived without major injuries, but his memory had been erased. He couldn’t recall his childhood, recognize his parents, or recall where they had lived. Thomas’ demeanour had shifted. He created new memories because he longed to remember something from his past, to understand where he came from. He was living a life without meaning until he heard The Waterboys’ 1980s hit, The Whole of the Moon, according to BBC.
The song triggered something in his brain, and he began to see images in his head. “I was sitting on this weird blue floor and I could see this silver radio. Then, I was in another place and I was holding this man’s giant hand… and then there was another memory,” “Until the memory chain led him to an image of himself as a small boy beside a Christmas tree and a woman,” said Thomas. His brain had retrieved a childhood memory of himself with his young mother. It would serve as an anchor for him to recover more of his memories.
Thomas was in a car accident when he was 19, and lost all his childhood memories. This is the story of how they started to come back. #OuchStorytellingLive pic.twitter.com/qLASh5UBkd— BBC Two (@BBCTwo) August 27, 2019
“It was the most magical thing ever,” Thomas recalled of the memory flashbacks. The accident had occurred ten years before. After going to meet a friend, Thomas was waiting for a ride from his father. He was hit by a car as he crossed the street. An officer who witnessed the accident couldn’t believe anyone could survive such an accident. The 19-year-old had been thrown through the taxi’s roof and landed on his head.
The hospital’s medical staff thought he was extremely fortunate to have escaped with only minor injuries. “There was very little evidence of injury other than scratches and bruises,” recalled his father, Anthony Leeds. He was even discharged the next day. Over the next few days, he experienced nausea, a terrible headache, and back pain. He was taken back to the hospital, where a scan revealed there was a huge blood clot in his brain. “He was 24 hours away from death,” Anthony explained. He had surgery to remove the clot, but he couldn’t remember anything. His family and the medical staff attributed it to morphine side effects. Thomas was too preoccupied with the fact that he had no memory of his past. The 19-year-old was unable to identify his parents or his five siblings.
He found himself in an “emotional bubble” that made him happy. It was common among those who had sustained head trauma. He didn’t return home because he couldn’t recognize his home. “I really tried to fit in with everybody when they told me these stories,” Thomas explained, but he couldn’t remember anything. He could read, write, and do basic math, but he knew nothing else. He’d lost all cultural knowledge and references, which were essential for striking up conversations and building relationships.
Apparently I made a yummy cheesecake last night before I had a seizure… No memory of it. Seems like a good reason to have a cheesecake… 🍰😋— Thomas Leeds 🏳️🌈 🔥JAYBEN🔥 (@thomasleeds) May 12, 2021
His demeanour had shifted. He used to be more reserved, but now he is more affectionate. “My brother wasn’t glad that I’d had this accident but he was like, ‘You’re much nicer,’ Thomas joked. One of his most serious problems was that he had developed prosopagnosia, or face blindness. He couldn’t place a face, even if he knew the person and had seen it before. It all added up and contributed to his failed relationships until he met Sophie on a dating app.
They connected and planned to meet the next day, but he admitted that he wouldn’t recognize her the next day. He had always identified people by using context, location pins, or by listening to their voice. Sophie had dyed her hair red before meeting Thomas and had kept it that way ever since. Even after a marriage and two children, he still uses that as a marker. “She’s amazing. She always makes me feel that she’s lucky to have me. It made me feel a lot better about the future,” stated Thomas. It’s more difficult with children when they’re outside because he has trouble recognizing them.
Merry Christmas! 🎅🏻🎄❤ pic.twitter.com/E5RQTziBvt— Thomas Leeds 🏳️🌈 🔥JAYBEN🔥 (@thomasleeds) December 25, 2020
He’d been trying to remember his past for more than ten years, visiting childhood haunts and speaking with friends and family in the hopes of triggering a memory. Nothing worked for him until he heard The Whole of the Moon. He’d been putting together an ’80s playlist for his 30th birthday. He listened to them all, but when The Waterboys’ song came on, he began to see images in his head. “It really changed everything for me,” he said, recalling the flashbacks. “It was so short, nothing was said, but knowing that it was real and I’ve got it in my head and it’s not just a story, and it’s not just a grainy photograph … it was a little bit of my beginning,” he said.
It was his memory that served as an anchor to his past. “There was a woman standing, and she was young and she was smiling and she didn’t have grey hair. It was my mum and I was her little boy. And it was real.” He’s had small bursts of memories since then, and he’s hopeful of recovering more of his memories. He is now a writer who creates fantasy adventures for children aged 8 to 12.