Thomas Leeds recalled his young-looking Mom smiling at him as they stood in front of a Christmas tree.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on June 24, 2021. It has since been updated.
Thomas Leeds was just 19 when he was hit by a car in a horrific accident in London. He was lucky to survive without major injuries, but his memory had been wiped clean. He couldn't remember his childhood, recognize his parents or remember the house they had lived in. Thomas' personality had changed. He forged new memories as he longed to recall something from his past, to get a sense of where he came from. He was living a life without context until he listened to The Waterboys' 1980s hit, The Whole of the Moon, reported BBC.
The lyrics of the song went:
I pictured a rainbow
You held it in your hands
I had flashes
But you saw the plan.
The song triggered something in his brain and he started getting pictures 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," said Thomas until the memory chain led him to the image of him as a small boy beside a Christmas tree and a woman. His brain had retrieved a memory of himself with his young mother from his childhood. It would serve him as an anchor to recovery 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," recalled Thomas, about the memory flashbacks. It had been 10 years earlier that the accident had happened. Thomas was waiting for a lift from his father after he had gone to meet a friend. As he crossed the road, he was hit by a car. An officer who witnessed the accident couldn't believe anyone could make it alive from an accident like that. The 19-year-old had been thrown over the roof of the taxi and landed on his head.
The medical staff at the hospital believed he was very lucky to escape with no major 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," said Anthony. He underwent surgery and had the clot removed but he couldn't remember a thing. His family and the medical staff put it down as a possible effect of morphine. Thomas was too perturbed by the fact that he had no recollection of his past. The 19-year-old couldn't recognize his parents or his five siblings.
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 🏳️🌈 (@thomasleeds) May 12, 2021
He found himself in an "emotional bubble," which made him feel content. It was common to those who suffered head trauma. When he returned home, he didn't return home he couldn't recognize his home. "I really tried to fit in with everybody when they told me these stories," said Thomas but he couldn't remember anything. He could read, write, and knew basic things such as math but nothing more. He had lost all cultural knowledge and references, key tenets to striking conversations and forging relationships.
His personality had changed. He was more reserved earlier, but now he was more affectionate. "My brother wasn't glad that I'd had this accident but he was like, 'You're much nicer,'" joked Thomas. One of his biggest issues was that he had developed prosopagnosia — face blindness. He couldn't recognize a face, even if he knew the person and had seen it multiple times. It all added up and contributed to his relationships failing until he met Sophie, through a dating app. They felt a connection and planned to meet the next day but he confessed that he wouldn't be able to recognize her the next day. He had always used context, location pins to identify people, or by listening to their voice. Sophie had dyed her hair red, before meeting Thomas and she kept it that way. He still uses that as marking today, a marriage and two kids later. "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," said Thomas. It's harder with kids when they are outside, cause he finds it hard to recognize them.
Merry Christmas! 🎅🏻🎄❤ pic.twitter.com/E5RQTziBvt— Thomas Leeds 🏳️🌈 (@thomasleeds) December 25, 2020
He had been trying to recall his past for more than ten years, visiting places from his childhood and talking to friends and family, in the hope of triggering a memory. Nothing worked until he heard the track, The Whole of the Moon. He had been curating an '80s playlist for his 30th birthday. He listened to them all but when The Waterboys hit played, he started getting pictures 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's the memory of his that really 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." Since then he's had small bursts of memories and he's hopeful of recovering more of his memories. He is a writer now and pens fantasy adventure for 8-to-12-year-olds.