Jackie and John Mills

Jackie and John Mills (photograph courtesy of Wales Online)

A different dad with a ten-minute memory

by Jackie and John Mills

For John Mills, of Caerleon in Newport, suffering a cardiac arrest at the Royal Gwent Hospital while undergoing treatment for heart problems in May 2004 meant sustaining a hypoxic brain injury that left the dad-of-two with severe memory problems.

After remaining in a coma for two days, John, aged 47 at the time of his injury, spent the next two months in hospital undergoing physiotherapy and occupational therapy to help him relearn how to walk and talk after brain injury.

And yet, it was the more sinister hidden effects of brain injury that would go on to cause daily problems for John and his wife, Jackie. It soon became apparent that John was suffering from anterograde amnesia, a condition that prevents him from forming new memories.

'Struggles to create new memories'

Although long-term memories remain intact, to this day John cannot remember the immediate past meaning that, while he often enjoys events at the time, he cannot recall events and conversations that occurred just minutes earlier.

Jackie Mills, who has now become John's full-time carer, said her husband continues to require round-the-clock supervision.

"John struggles to create new memories," said Jackie. "The condition, brought on by his brain injury, means that my husband does not speak unless spoken to first and pays little attention to what is going on around him.

“We went to St Fagans to celebrate John's 60th birthday on 9 August last year. It was a lovely day but, for John, it is completely forgotten about now. The way we see things is that it’s all about quality of life – he enjoyed it at the time and that's what matters.

“Our daily routine starts with me waking up John with coffee and his tablets and putting out clean clothes for him. I need to make sure he has a shower and a shave before breakfast. John's always enjoyed walking, so one of his daily jobs is to take the dogs out for a walk.

"Depending on what I am doing, we may have a support worker come round, and they often take him out on the bus to give me some respite. In the evening, I get his dinner ready before bed.”

The couple’s daughters, Sam and Megan, now 25 and 23, were just 13 and 11 when their dad sustained his brain injury.

Retained his pre-injury general knowledge

Jackie added: “Our children were forced to get used to having a different dad with a ten-minute memory. John isn’t totally sure how old the kids are but he knows they’ve been to university so he’s got a rough idea. But he hasn’t a clue who some of the wider family such as nieces and nephews are.”

The couple now receive weekly support from Headway Cardiff, and Jackie cited sudoku puzzles among her husband’s favourite pastimes, saying: "John would do puzzles all day, given the chance, or watch quiz shows as he still retains all the general knowledge he had before he developed the condition. He can still play chess better than anyone – he just can’t remember playing."

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Photograph courtesy of Wales Online