John's 10 minute memory

15 August 2016

Jackie and John Mills from Newport are helping to raise awareness about the hidden disabilities following an acquired brain injury by sharing their story.  

John suffered oxygen starvation to the brain in 2004, the results of which mean that he can only remember things for a maximum of 10 minutes.

Without constant supervision the dad-of-two, who will turn 60 on August 9, would repeat parts of his daily routine over and over again, such as eating breakfast or washing his hair.  His memory loss is so severe that he can barely remember getting married and has no recollection of his children, Sam and Megan, being born.

John’s life was changed forever when he suffered a cardiac arrest at the Royal Gwent Hospital in May 2004 at the age of 47 – the day before his daughter Megan’s 11th birthday.

“He had heart problems and was under investigation at the hospital,” said Jackie.  “The doctors were trying to work out what was wrong and suddenly his heart just decided it’d had enough."

“They spent half an hour getting him going, by which time lack of oxygen had damaged the brain.  He wasn’t expected to last the night and was unconscious that night and the next day, Megan’s birthday, but woke up the day after.  He was very confused. He didn’t know who anybody was for a while.”

John stayed in hospital for two months and underwent physiotherapy and occupational therapy to help him walk and talk again.

“It took a while for us to realise how bad the damage to the brain was,” added Jackie.

Despite taking much of John’s condition with good humour, she admits the past 12 years have been stressful and upsetting.

“I know it’s not deliberate, but sometimes the fact he can’t remember things can be incredibly hurtful,” added Jackie.  

She said John’s condition also had a major impact on his children Sam, 25, and Megan, 23, who were just 11 and 13 at the time.

Jackie added: “Sam, overall, did pretty well and hasn’t been affected too much psychologically, but Megan was a lot more traumatic in her teens. There were lots of problems with mine and Megan’s relationship, and I think that was partly down to the fact she couldn’t argue with her dad – so I got double the dose.”

After the incident the family were referred to brain injury charity Headway , based at Rookwood Hospital in Cardiff, who continue to see John once a week to work on his memory.

“Some people without oxygen for that length of time could be dead, some could be perfectly fine and some are in between,” added Jackie.

“So we are very lucky that he’s still alive and still around. He just doesn’t remember very much.  But he has all his intelligence – and he still plays a mean game of chess.”