Just a month after she was married, Tunicia Hall faced a health crisis that left her unable to remember the wedding. Hospitalized for a rare kind of stroke, she recognized her new husband, Raleigh, but asked him: “Are we married?”
He was quick to answer. “I was very affirming, like, 'Yes, baby,'” Raleigh, 50, told TODAY. "I said, I've got to do something here."
Determined to reach her, Raleigh filled her hospital room with 100 photos of their wedding, attaching them to the walls and hoping the happiness and joy of that day would help bring back memories. It's a plan that doctors say helped his bride recover.
It's been a tumultuous few months for the couple, who said “I do” on June 28, some 30 years after they first met.
“We’ve lived our lives separately only to find that God brought us together,” Raleigh said.
A month later, they were relaxing and watching TV in their home in Queens, New York, when Tunicia — who didn’t have any health problems — began to feel ill.
“All of a sudden, my head started hurting me profusely. It was beyond a headache — it was everywhere, across my whole forehead,” she recalled.
As the pain intensified, Raleigh called 911. At the nearest hospital, doctors performed a CT scan and he knew by their faces something was seriously wrong. Tunicia had suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage — bleeding on the surface of the brain.
“The blood sort of bathes the whole brain,” said Dr. Richard Temes, director of the Center for Neurocritical Care at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York, where Tunicia was transferred for specialized treatment. “It’s a type of stroke, but it’s not the stroke that we always commonly think of.”
A subarachnoid hemorrhage — a very serious condition with a high level of mortality — usually affects people who are healthy and some 20 years younger than the typical stroke patient, he added. At 43, Tunicia was close to the average age of onset.
She was sleepy and lethargic when Temes first saw her, and she was having memory problems. Temes asked Tunicia her name, the current year, and who Raleigh was. She didn’t know the answer to any of those questions, Temes said. Such a profound short-term memory loss is not unusual with the condition, he added.
After doctors placed a drain in Tunicia’s brain to help bring down the swelling, she improved. She recognized Raleigh, but a couple of days after the hemorrhage, she asked if they were married.
“I remembered he was my husband, but I forgot our wedding day,” she said.
So Raleigh was determined to help, filling her hospital room with photos of the day.
At first, Tunicia was puzzled.
“I’m laying in bed watching him go back and forth and I’m wondering: Why is he putting those pictures up?” she said.
But Raleigh’s plan soon began to work.
“Seeing the pictures every day when I woke up was wonderful,” Tunicia said.
“The pictures started drawing her not just to our marriage but to the celebration and when all of the people celebrated our love. So she experienced the love again through the pictures,” Raleigh noted.
Temes is convinced all the photos and family support helped Tunicia get better. Certain areas of the brain are important for recognizing faces, but others give emotional content to that recognition, so you feel love for the person you recognize, he said. Pictures can stimulate these areas of the brain and help promote recovery, he added.
Tunicia spent almost a month in the hospital and today, her outlook is very good, Temes said. She’s back at home and in rehab, with her memory almost back to normal.
“I feel great,” she said, though there are sometimes subtle hints of what happened in July.
As the family celebrated Raleigh’s 50th birthday last month, Tunicia wanted to prepare a special casserole for him that she’d cooked before. She remembered all the ingredients, but couldn’t recall how to prepare the dish, so she had to call her mother for instructions. It bugged her, but Raleigh was just thrilled to have her home.
“I had the best tasting 50th birthday dinner I could have ever had,” he said. “I’m just so happy.”