Lightning victim fights to regain recent memory
College honor student Erin Ellickson can recall the distant past. But most of what happened after Aug. 21 eludes her.
Published February 1, 2005
PENSACOLA - Erin Ellickson recalls her childhood, her year at the University of West Florida and even the periodic table of elements. But she can't remember things she did yesterday, what she had for lunch or being hit by lightning.
The 19-year-old aspiring marine biologist from Marietta, Ga., has physically recovered about 90 percent since being struck by the lightning bolt five months ago. But doctors and her parents are unsure how much mental capacity the honor student will regain or when.
"We're still in the mode of hoping for more than functional," said her father, Ed Ellickson. "We want as much of the old Erin back as we can get."
He, his wife, Liz, and Erin were walking across the Pensacola campus Aug. 21 when the bolt hit a nearby tree, knocking all three unconscious.
Erin's parents, both U.S. Postal Service distribution clerks, quickly regained consciousness, but the cell phone in Erin's purse apparently contributed to her much more serious injuries.
She spent several weeks at the University of South Alabama Burn Center in Mobile, then six weeks at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, before beginning intensive rehabilitation.
Rehab was slowed last week because doctors feared the intensity was hampering her mental recovery, her father said.
"She has only one emotion, and it's happy," he said. "She doesn't have any sort of regretfulness or remorse. It will be a sign of improvement when she gets to that point."
For now, Erin is not creating new memories and has been unable to retain most of what she has learned. She can write, although shakily, use a computer and feed and dress herself.
"It just seems like such a cruel thing because she had such a quick mind, and it's not there anymore," her mother said.
Her parents and siblings, Erik, 24, and Evienne, 16, are hopeful because small pieces of her personality, including defiance and sass, are starting to come back. Also, doctors say the most significant gains should come six to 12 months after such an injury.
"I'm convinced by all the sparks that I've seen that we still have a potential for a pretty good recovery," her father said. "As long as she's able to live a functional, happy life and doesn't have to be taken care of after I'm gone, I'll be happy."