A German man who survived a terrible car crash six years ago was left unable to transfer short-term memories to his long-term memory, which means he forgets everything when he goes to sleep unless he writes them down.
Daniel Schmidt is lucky to be alive. In 2015, he was involved in a motorway accident that left him with severe physical and brain injuries. He underwent intensive phisyo and speech therapy to regain his ability to speak, but the one thing he couldn’t get back was his memory. After sustaining level three traumatic brain injuries, Schmidt was rendered unable to transfer short-term memories into long-term, which means that whenever he goes to sleep at night, he forgets everything that happened that day, the people he met, the places he visited, the things he did, everything.
“I was going to see my sister, I was on the motorway,” Daniel recalled about his accident. “There was a traffic jam and I was the last one to join it. I was sitting there and then a car came up behind me, it was a big seven-seater with a young family inside, and the driver didn’t see the traffic jam at all. He smashed into me at over 80mph. The entire motorway was closed. There were a lot of injuries, but they weren’t too serious. I was airlifted to the hospital. I suffered a severe traumatic brain injury – they call it a level three TBI.”
Luckily, Daniel survived an accidental that experts say should have been fatal, but that day he lost something that many of us take for granted, memories. Even after regaining control of his body and learning how to speak again, Daniel couldn’t get back to his old life. He couldn’t even remember his old friends and didn’t feel connected to them, and even his relationship with his then-girlfriend was very difficult.
“I’d need to get in touch by the third day at the latest,” Daniel said. “I’d need to hear her voice or we’d need to talk, and above all, see each other, otherwise it would be like meeting her for the first time.”
Daniel keeps lists of the important things he does every day, to make sure that he knows about them the next day, but in order to form some sort of long-term memories about them, he needs to experience them daily for a longer period of time.
“If we shot two days in a row, Daniel could remember us. But if we shot two weeks later, he would never have recognized us,” Nadine Nieman, a film director who shot a documentary with Daniel, said in a Reddit AMA. “But we took precautions. I always talked to him one day before shooting. He can remember voices and create familiarity. And he had a photo of us hanging in his kitchen.”
Daniel and his girlfriend had a child together a few years back, and one of the things he regrets the most is not being able to remember the day his son was born. It’s one of the things he has learned to live with, but he admits that some days are harder than others and that he deals with depression from time to time.
Daniel Schmidt’s case is similar to the script of 50 First Dates, a classic romantic comedy starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, only his story isn’t nearly as romantic. He and Katherina eventually broke up, but they still see each other pretty often, as Daniel remains involved in his son’s life.
Even though Daniel hopes of one day regaining his capacity to store short-term memories over the long-term, the prognosis isn’t very encouraging. He is now committed to helping others with similar conditions get over their disability.