Tara Fall, a speaker with a rare neurological condition, came and spoke to the Loras community in the Arizona Room, on Friday, Oct. 9.
From Monticello, Iowa, Fall has a condition known as prosopagnosia, or face blindness. This means that she cannot recognize people, even her own family, by their faces but must rely instead on other characteristics that she can put into words in her head.
Fall described her childhood as normal, but as a toddler she had spinal meningitis. This did not begin to affect her in a significant way until middle school. During that time, she would often experience a strange tingling sensation throughout her body coupled with déjà vu and being sick to her stomach. She saw psychologists, neurologists, and even had an electroencephalogram performed, but to no avail. This continued for a number of years until at age 16, she woke up with a floating sensation. It was pitch black. Fall had what is known as a tonic-clonic seizure.
“No one chooses to have a seizure,” said Fall, describing just how frightening the event can be.
These seizures continued into her adulthood. She attended college, though regrettably could not loft her bed because of the seizures. She received a BA in Psychology, got married and had two children. Despite her successes, the seizures that were mostly nocturnal now, were steadily getting worse. Fall would wake up with red dots under her eyes, which meant capillaries had burst during the night.
One day, Fall woke up in the University of Iowa hospital completely baffled. She assumed she was in Virginia, but her latest seizure had cost her 18 months of memory.
“Surgeons needed to take out part of my brain, otherwise seizures were going to take my life,” said Fall as she described her need to have her hippocampus removed to stop the seizures. The hippocampus is what converts short term to long term memory. When brain surgery is performed, the patient is partially conscious. Fall woke up twice during her surgery, and she had a seizure as well as a stroke.
When she woke, Fall had no senses except for taste. But she was delighted that she still had her memories. Slowly, she regained her senses and ability to walk. Soon, nurses joked with her about tripping the doctor with her cane.
Fall returned to work and slowly began to put her life back together. But one day, a woman greeted her at the store and Fall had no idea who it was. It was her coworker who she had seen earlier in the day.
Fall’s condition hinders her ability to recognize faces. She has what is known as acquired anterograde prosopagnosia. This means she can remember and recognize people’s faces as they were before her stroke, but even the slightest change would throw her off.
Fall has trouble recognizing her husband, children, parents, neighbors, and anyone else in her life. Because of this, she relies on other non-visual characteristics, especially voice, to recognize people. Tara also lost her visual memory, which means that she cannot picture things in her head but can put it together in words.
Fall has been able to help doctors and researchers learn more about her condition and help the growing number of people who share her condition.
“Obviously her positivity is an important lesson,” said Angela Richardson, a Loras first-year.
Fall continues to help and inspire people with her unique and fascinating story.