The ability to make memories is one we usually take for granted, but without it, we’d lose sense of who we are. Time would blend together, and despite going through the motions of living life, every day would be the same blank slate as the last. What would you do? Who could you trust? And, most importantly, who would you be?

The ability to make memories is one we often take for granted — without it, you wouldn’t have known you’ve read the first part of this sentence before. For Riley Horner, life became a constant struggle to piece together the minutes, hours, and days that seemingly vanished into thin air — and it all began on June 11th.

But for 16 years before that, Riley was just another girl from Illinois. For a high school junior, juggling friends, classes, and a boyfriend was likely the heaviest thing on her mind.

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So when the Future Farmers of America arrived in Springfield for their annual convention, Riley jumped at the chance to attend one of the concert events on June 11th. An evening filled with fun and music was exactly what Riley needed to unwind.

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The energy was high as Riley danced through the mass of teens on the convention center floor, dodging crowdsurfers as they came tumbling past. Riley turned her head to make sure her friends were still with her, so she never saw the 150-pound body coming her way.

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The crowdsurfer landed full-force on top of Riley, knocking her unconscious and sending her straight to the hospital. Surprisingly, the doctors released her after only an hour or so, claiming the injury was nothing more than a bump on the head. Then, she got in the car.

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On the ride home, Riley began convulsing in the backseat, prompting a sharp U-turn and rush back to the emergency room. Over the next few hours, another 30 to 45 seizures made things clear: this was no ordinary bump on the head.

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When doctors stopped the convulsing, Riley awoke to find she had no recollection of anything after her injury. Her parents filled her in on the night’s events, though just a few hours later, she forgot all over again.

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After further testing, doctors determined Riley was suffering from concussion-induced short-term memory loss, a common symptom of traumatic brain injuries. With time and healing, they believed Riley’s ability to retain memories would return. They were wrong.

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In the weeks that followed, Riley showed no signs of improvement; every two hours, her brain would reset to those fateful minutes before her injury. Though she was able to speak and function as she had before, Riley was totally incapable of making new memories.

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Each day, Riley woke believing it was June 11th all over again and that she was still at the FFA concert with her friends. It was like the movie Groundhog Day come to life, though instead of a lighthearted comedy, this was a complete nightmare.

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“It’s like I’m broken,” the 16-year-old shared. “I’m not the same Riley… Anything that I’ve been through recently, it’s just not there and so when people talk about it it’s just really, it’s so confusing, because it didn’t happen to me.”

For the next several months, Riley and her mother Sarah traveled all over the country in search of an answer for her condition. Yet time and time again, they were met with the same response: doctors simply didn’t know what was wrong with her.

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All the while, Riley had become increasingly dependent on a series of notes on her phone that summarized the events of the previous days. This practice, however, proved only somewhat effective — without her full cognitive capabilities, Riley’s chance of living a normal, independent life was slim to none.

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“If she doesn’t get her memory back, right now she’s probably okay, but a year or two years, you’re going to see a difference, she’ll still be a 16-year-old girl,” explained Sarah. “At that point, I just see her future is done.”

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Then, on the four-month anniversary of Riley’s injury, something amazing happened. After word of the 16-year-old’s story was shared online, Cognitive FX, a post-concussion research center, reached out to Sarah with a startling claim: not only did they know what was wrong with Riley, but they could help her, too.

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And so, Riley and Sarah booked a flight to Provo, Utah, to meet with neuroscientist Dr. Mark Allen, who began by taking scans of Riley’s brain. The results revealed a lack of oxygen to the braincells as the cause of Riley’s memory loss — luckily, Dr. Allen had a quick fix.

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“We can coax the system back into working order,” explained Dr. Allen. “What happens is that little communication system breaks down, and it’s fixable and it’s really a minor issue, but it leads to major problems. The ultimate goal is to get the system back online.”

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For the next two weeks, Riley underwent regular sequences of coordination, memory, and intense physical exercises to improve cognitive function. By the end of the first week, Riley began making minor, food-related memories.

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Incredibly, by the midpoint of week two, Riley had recovered nearly all of her memory! “It’s truly a miracle, I don’t know what else to say!” Sarah shared with Fox 13. “She will have a future!”

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Following her two-week stay, Riley was sent home to finish out a four-week treatment plan, followed by another four months of rehab. Inspired by Dr. Allen and those that’d helped in her recovery, Riley is now planning a rather unique way of giving back.

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Having always wanted to pursue a career in medicine, Riley has set her sights on becoming a neuroscientist, eager to help others just as the doctors at Cognitive FX had helped her. And one day, Riley may find a willing patient in Rory Curtis of Redditch, Great Britain.

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At 25, Rory had a bright future ahead of him. He was a budding star for Manchester United’s youth team, and a career as a pro soccer player didn’t seem too far off. But in August of 2012, Rory’s future was put on hold.

While driving home from practice one evening, a severe rainstorm swept into the area, making it nearly impossible for the young man to see the road ahead. Rory was eager to get home, however, and so, despite his hesitations, he drove on.

As the rain beat down on his windshield, Rory didn’t the see large cargo truck in front of him until it unexpectedly veered into his lane. He hit his brakes, but it was too late: the car slammed into the truck ahead.

A pileup ensued, and beneath the wreckage of six vehicles was Rory — bruised, broken, but still very much alive. Firefighters rushed to the scene, and after an hour of work, they managed to pry Rory from his car.

Amazingly, Rory seemed to have come away from the crash with little but cosmetic injuries, though with this kind of trauma, the EMTs knew there was likely more than met the eye. They radioed in a helicopter, and Rory was flown to a nearby hospital.

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True to precedent, the doctors discovered that Rory’s injury was worse than first believed: the young man suffered a multifocal intracranial brain hemorrhage. With his brain swelling fast and blood pooling in his head, doctors had no choice but to place him into a comatose state.

With such a severe head injury, doctors couldn’t say how long Rory would remain in his coma… or if he would come out of it at all. Rory’s family readied itself for months – even years – of waiting. Then came a miracle.

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To the shock of the entire hospital, Rory came out of his coma after just six days. Doctors couldn’t believe how quickly the young man recovered, and by the look of him, there seemed to be no lingering aftereffects. Then, he opened his mouth…

Instead of English, Rory began conversing with the nurses in fluent French. The doctors, believing it to be his first language, thought nothing of his speech, and they hurried to contact Rory’s family to tell them the good news.

Rory’s parents rushed to the hospital, and after reuniting with their son, one of the doctors casually asked which side of the family was French. Puzzled by the question, they replied that neither of them was, nor could they speak the language. That’s when everyone turned to Rory.

The look on his face showed he was just as perplexed as they were, as not only had Rory been speaking French, but he’d also done so without even knowing it. His only experience with the language had been way back in the 9th grade, and even then, he barely managed to grasp the basics.

Yet somehow, he was now speaking it like his native tongue, with an accent strong enough to fool even the French nurses. The doctors convened on the puzzling matter, and after some talk, they determined he was suffering from Foreign Language Syndrome.

Though it seems like something out of a Hollywood film, Foreign Language Syndrome is a rare condition that occurs after a person experiences severe head trauma. In an attempt to “reboot,” the brain will latch onto whatever undamaged information it can find — even if it’s a foreign language.

But while this case was certainly an unusual one, things were about to get even crazier. Not only was Rory now speaking fluent French, but he was also convinced that he was none other than Hollywood star Matthew McConaughey!

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You read that right: Rory believed he was Matthew McConaughey, and he even went as far as asking the doctors when he’d be discharged so he could get back to filming. Even after looking in the mirror, he thought McConaughey’s blue eyes stared right back at him.

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Everyone was understandably concerned about Rory’s condition, and after news of the strange case broke, his parents were approached by the Surgical Reconstruction and Microbiology Research Centre. They offered Rory a course of treatments, though there was no guarantee they would work.

Incredibly, Rory’s body quickly took to the medication, and after two months of rehab, he was finally allowed to go home. As both his body and his mind continued to recover, he gradually came to the realization that he was not, in fact, Matthew McConaughey.

However, it seemed that Rory’s ability to speak French was here to stay, as even today, he’s still fluent in the language. This is unprecedented for a sufferer of Foreign Language Syndrome, as most others who have dealt with the condition forgot their acquired language as they recovered.

While Rory’s injury forced him to give up his dream of playing soccer professionally, he’s now content to work as a barber in his hometown of Redditch. People love asking Rory about his story, but one question always seems to trump all others: will he be able to speak French forever? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Rory Curtis / Twitter

Yet not everyone who falls into a coma wakes up with extraordinary abilities, and most of the time, the lingering effects aren’t exactly worth marveling over. For one Polish man, it wasn’t his coma that made headlines: instead, it was the headlines that made his coma…

According to a 2007 article published in the Polish newspaper Gazeta Dzialdowska, a railway worker named Jan Grzebski suffered an injury to his head and fell deep into a coma back in 1988. At the time, the paper said, doctors doubted that he’d ever make a full recovery.

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However, in that same 2007 article, the paper reported that Jan had finally woken up from what turned out to be a 19-year coma — and the world was a very different place than when he had left it!

The story spread like wildfire; it was picked up by news outlets and perpetuated by television reports. Given the heavy communist presence in Poland at the time Jan slipped into his coma, the concept of a man waking up after nearly two decades to find a much different world shocked the public.

Newspapers and TV reports pointed out similarities between this supposed real-life story and the plot of a 2003 movie called Good Bye, Lenin! In the film, a family in East Berlin tries to hide the fall of the Berlin Wall and East German communism from their elderly pro-communist mother after she awakens from a coma in 1990.

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Another amazing aspect that was reported was the fact that, when Jan slipped into his coma, he had four children. By the time he woke up, he had 11 grandchildren! Jan supposedly had plenty of new family members to become acquainted with. As strange as all this sounded, the news continued to report on it…

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Technology was another industry that made gigantic leaps during the time Jan was unresponsive. In a Polish television interview, he was quoted as saying, “Now I see people on the streets with mobile phones and there are so many goods in the shops it makes my head spin.”

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In the Daily Telegraph, he was also quoted as saying, “When I went into a coma there was only tea and vinegar in the shops. Meat was rationed and huge petrol queues were everywhere.” He’d awoken to a world with an abundance of goods. It was almost too much for him to fathom.

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During Jan’s reported 19-year coma, he relied on his faithful wife, Gertruda, to take care of him. She remained by his side the entire time, even though doctors told her that Jan probably wouldn’t live more than a few years on life support.

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In an interview with a Polish television station, Gertruda talked about the agony Jan’s coma caused her. She said, “I cried a lot, and I prayed a lot. Those who came to see us kept asking, ‘When is he going to die?’ But he’s not dead.” Gertruda had no idea if her beloved husband would ever regain consciousness again.

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People all over the world loved the heartwarming story they were being told about Jan and his dramatic journey. However, The Guardian Newspaper decided to dig a little deeper for more details, and suddenly there were certain “facts” that weren’t adding up. That was when the biggest bombshell of all was dropped on fascinated readers.

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As it turned out, even though Jan’s story wasn’t entirely made up, there were many details that were inaccurate. But who was the person that The Guardian’s reporter spoke to that admitted to all these fabrications?

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It was none other than Jan himself! While speaking to the reporter, Jan said, “I never said any of those things. I was not in a coma for 19 years, I only spoke to one journalist and what they wrote was not true—and every time the story was printed new things emerged.” The reporter was shocked by Jan’s admittance.

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This changed everything! Jan told the reporter that he had, in fact, suffered a head injury in 1988 that put him into a coma, but it had only lasted four years, not 19 like news outlets had confirmed. He had been wheelchair-bound since the time he awoke from his four-year ordeal.

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Jan then debunked the entire Good Bye, Lenin! angle of his story. He had not fallen into a coma in one world just to wake up in a completely different one like reports suggested. “I saw all the things that they claimed I had not seen, although I could not always express myself. I saw the news on TV so I was informed, and I also met my grandchildren,” Jan told The Guardian.

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These new developments were fascinating. For whatever reason, the paper that originally ran his story was trying to make a huge deal out of something that wasn’t as crazy as it seemed. Jan’s doctor, Wojciech Pstragowski, even confirmed the new details. He admitted that, although Jan had been disabled for 19 years, he was certainly not in a coma the entire time.

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Gertruda also supported her husband’s version of the events… sort of. She told The Guardian, “Jan was not in a coma, he understood everything that I said to him. At first he used his face to let me know whether he wanted anything to eat or drink. Later, he spoke.”

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Jan had apparently only spoken to one journalist in Poland who took his story and embellished the facts of his case. So, who was it that had spread his fabricated story around the world? The answer wasn’t that surprising…

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A reporter from the paper Gazeta Dzialdowska was the one that spread the falsehoods. The Guardian reached out to the paper’s editor-in-chief about the story, Malgorzata Czrewinska, and she immediately replied, “It’s not a lie. The thing is that there are different kinds of coma.” This was a very puzzling response, and it was not her only comment.

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The editor-in-chief added, “There is a kind of coma where people are unconscious and others where they wake up from time to time, and then fall back into coma. This was the case with Jan Grzebski.” The editor also said that even if Jan’s coma had lasted only four years, there were still dramatic changes in Poland during that time.

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Jan and Gertruda are still very much in love, and although the truth about his story was much different from what had been published, one thing was certain: Gertruda still spent nearly two decades caring for her disabled husband. After the actual story came to light, Jan’s celebrity lessened dramatically, but he didn’t care at all because he still had his health and his loving wife by his side.

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