10:03pm

Thu December 13, 2012
StoryCorps

For Man With Amnesia, Love Repeats Itself

Originally published on Mon December 17, 2012 9:25 am

Forty-six-year-old Jeff Ingram has a rare type of amnesia called dissociative fugue. When he has an attack, his memory is wiped clean and he doesn't remember who he is or where he's from.

To chronicle their memories in case he forgets again, Jeff and his wife, Penny, came to StoryCorps in Olympia, Wash.

"You and I were talking on the phone," Penny recalls. "You said, 'Well, I have a medical condition that I probably should share with you.' "

Jeff told her about a time he went missing for nine months because he had lost his memory. They agreed to handle the situation together if it were ever to happen again.

"I said I would be your memory," Penny says.

Jeff eventually asked her mother for Penny's hand in marriage.

"You've told me that story several times," Jeff says, "and I really wish I could remember that."

Jeff has experienced three bouts of amnesia: in 1994, 2006 and 2007. Penny reminds him of the first one they shared together in 2006, three years after they first met.

"We woke up that day, said goodbye and you jumped on the freeway," she says. "No one knows what happened from that point forward because you ended up in Denver. I was going crazy."

Jeff found his way to national television and asked America to help him figure out his identity.

"What's the last thing you remember before you came to and you realized you were in the middle of Denver?" an ABC news reporter asked him.

"Just picking myself up off the ground outside of a building in downtown Denver," he replied.

He couldn't remember if he had ever been to Denver before or if it was even his hometown.

After the TV appearance, Penny called Denver police and talked with Jeff on the phone.

"I said, 'Hi, I'm Penny, your fiance,' " she says. But Jeff couldn't remember. He asked, "Do we have kids? What's my life like?"

"It was like meeting you again for the first time," Penny says. "And when you came home, I didn't know what to do, and so I offered to sleep in the spare room considering you didn't know me."

When he finally settled in their home, Jeff called Penny's mother and asked for Penny's hand in marriage — again.

"And my mom was like, 'I already told you, yes,' " Penny says with a chuckle.

They got married on New Year's Eve of 2006.

Jeff says his biggest regret about the amnesia is forgetting the wedding, but Penny tells him they'll get married again — so he can remember.

"It's harder for you because you have the memories and the heartache," Jeff says. "I just have nothing."

"Yeah, every time you don't pick up the phone when I call, I panic. I think I'm going to lose you again," Penny says.

She admits that losing him is a real possibility, that if Jeff ever forgets, comes home and decides he doesn't want to be with her, she'll have to let him go.

Jeff tries to relieve that fear.

"You have no idea how thankful and grateful I am to have you in my life. After my last episode when I came into the house, I knew I could trust you from the look in your eyes. I knew that that's where I should be," he says. "If I lose my memory again, I will still love you. I will always love you."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jasmyn Belcher.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's time now for Storycorps, the project recording the lives of everyday Americans. Today, we hear from Jeff Ingram. He suffers from a rare type of amnesia. When he has an attack, his memory is wiped clean. He doesn't remember who he is or where he's from. Each time he has to start his life over, and his wife, Penny, is there to help him remember.

At Storycorps, Penny told Jeff about the early days of their relationship.

PENNY INGRAM: You and I were talking on the phone. You said, well, I have a medical condition that I probably should share with you. And so you told me about when you went missing for nine months. And we both agreed that if that were to happen again, we could handle that. I said I would be your memory.

And eventually, you called my mom and asked if you could have my hand in marriage.

JEFF INGRAM: You've told me that story several times and I really wish I could remember that.

INGRAM: The first time you had an amnesia event with me, we woke up that day, said goodbye and you jumped on the freeway. No one knows what happened from that point forward because you ended up in Denver. I was going crazy. But eventually you got on TV and asked America to help you find out who you are.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: What's the last thing you remember before you came to and you realized you were in the middle of Denver?

INGRAM: Just picking myself up off the ground outside of a building in downtown Denver.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: And do you know if you've ever been to Denver before? Do you know if you're from Denver?

INGRAM: No, I don't.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You remember nothing about your past life.

INGRAM: No, nothing prior to September the 10th.

INGRAM: So I ended up calling the Denver Police Department and that's when they told you who you were. We talked on the phone. I said, Hi, I'm Penny, your fiance. You asked, did we have kids, what's was you life like? It was like meeting you again for the first time. And when you came home, I didn't know what to do, and so I offered to sleep in the spare room considering you didn't know me.

But when you were home for awhile, you called my mother again and asked her for my hand in marriage. And my mom was like, I already told you, yes. And so we got married on New Year's Eve.

INGRAM: That's my biggest regret about having these episodes, is that I forgot that.

INGRAM: We'll do it again, so you can remember it.

INGRAM: It's harder for you because you have the memories and the heartache. I just have nothing.

INGRAM: Yeah, every time you don't pick up the phone when I call, I panic. I think I'm going to lose you again. Someday, if it happens, and you come home and you don't want to be back together, I would have to let you go.

INGRAM: You have no idea how thankful and grateful I am to have you in my life. After my last episode, when I came into the house, I knew I could trust you from the look in your eyes. I knew that that's where I should be. If I lose my memory again, I will still love you. I will always love you.

GREENE: That's Jeff Ingram and his wife Penny in Olympia, Washington. They came to Storycorps to record Jeff's memories in case he loses them again. To hear the message he recorded for himself, go to npr.org. This interview will be archived along with all the others at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress.

And you're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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