By Hannah Crocker
A woman who has been happily married for more than 30 years has been left devastated after her husband FORGOT her.
Christine and Gary Newman had the perfect marriage, and loved spending time with their three children and six grandchildren.
But in May 2015, Gary was struck down with encephalitis – a rare but serious condition where the brain becomes inflamed – after being bitten by a FLY.
Since coming out of hospital, 59-year-old Gary has forgotten his whole family, and the virus has left him with the memory of a goldfish.
Christine, 58, now acts as Gary’s carer – and the devoted wife spends hours every day poring over family photos with him, in a bid to jog his memory.
Christine, from Hereford, said: “It’s like I’ve lost my husband – his body is there, but he’s not inside.
“I feel like I’ve lost my soulmate – sometimes I feel like I’m grieving for him.
“We’ve been married for more than 30 years – but my husband doesn’t know who I am.
“He’s just completely forgotten our whole lives together.
“He knows who people are, because I tell him every day, but he can’t remember them – we’re strangers to him.”
Gary’s nightmare began in May 2015, when he was bitten by a Blandford fly – a bloodsucking black fly, which infected him with the herpes virus and caused infectious encephalitis.
Gary, a self-employed builder, had been attacked by a swarm of the biting flies when he was working outside one afternoon – but he didn’t think much of it, and carried on working.
When he got home, he complained to Christine that he was feeling under the weather – and after taking a paracetamol, he went to bed.
But later that night, Christine was horrified to wake up to find Gary having a seizure.
Christine rang 999, and paramedics rushed Gary to hospital – and four days later, after a lumbar puncture, he was diagnosed with encephalitis.
Gary was put on antibiotics and spent a further three weeks in hospital, but from that moment he had completely lost his memory of Christine and his family.
Christine said: “On the first day in hospital, before the diagnosis, Gary still knew me.
“By the fourth day, he didn’t know me at all.
“It was horrendous to watch him deteriorating – the doctor told us he was very seriously ill, but to see him fading in front of my eyes was awful.
“He was conscious, but he was in his own little world – he wasn’t with us, he didn’t know who we were.”
Christine became Gary’s carer – she went into hospital every day to shower him, help him go to the toilet, and brush his teeth.
When he finally came home, she had to re-teach him everything from scratch – from making toast to using a knife and fork, and even what Christmas is.
When they should have been celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary in October 2015, all Christine could do was show him pictures of their special day and pray he’d remember.
Christine said: “I never realised his memory loss would be so bad.
“I always just thought he would get better – but two years later, he still doesn’t really know me.
“I tell him my name every day, and tell him I’m his wife – but he just looks at me blankly.
“We go through the same things most days – I tell him everything about our lives, and he writes it all in a diary to try and remember.
“There are pictures everywhere in the house, and every day we’ll sit down and go through our wedding album and family pictures.
“He gets very upset and angry, because he can’t remember – he knows what’s wrong with him but he can’t change it, and it makes him frustrated.
“It really upsets me, seeing him like that makes me want to cry.
“Looking back over all our memories is heart-breaking for me – remembering what we did together and all the happy memories we had, and not knowing if Gary will ever remember it or if we’ll be able to make new memories.
“Before the encephalitis, we had a really loving marriage – it was fantastic.
“People always used to comment on how in love we still were.
“But now, I can’t even hold Gary’s hand anymore – he won’t let me touch him.
“It gets very lonely for me, but I’d never consider putting him into care.
“I married him because I loved him, in sickness and in health, and I couldn’t do it to him – if it had happened to me he’d have done the same and looked after me.”
It had been love at first sight for Christine and Gary, who met after mutual friends set them up on a blind date – and as their 32nd wedding anniversary approaches this year, Christine still hopes Gary’s memories will return.
She said: “He’ll often say, ‘all I want is my brain back and to remember everything’.
“It’s been hard to deal with his personality change too – before he was very gentle, placid and very loving, but now the smallest things can frustrate him.
“But I still have hope he’ll turn round one day and remember me – that’s what keeps me going.
“He definitely won’t get any worse, and to some extent he has improved in terms of remembering day-to-day tasks – so maybe one day, he’ll remember everything else too.”
Christine and Gary’s daughter Nina is fundraising for a neuro specialist and psychologist to help with her dad’s rehabilitation.
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