Tags: man | amnesia | speaking | swedish

Man With Amnesia, Speaking Only Swedish, Doesn't Recall Himself

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Tuesday, 16 Jul 2013 01:08 PM

By Clyde Hughes

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In a story that sounds like the movie "The Bourne Identity," Michael Boatwright woke up  in California hospital believing he was Johan Ek, speaking Swedish and telling doctors he had no memory of his life as Boatwright.

The Palm Springs Desert Sun started piecing together Boatwright's life, how police found him unconscious in a Palm Springs motel in February and what might have happened before he arrived at the Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs.

Doctors say what Boatwright, 61, may be suffering from is transient global amnesia, a neurological phenomenon that causes people to "stop encoding new memories," Dr. Richard Caselli, professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix told the newspaper.

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Caselli said the temporary condition leaves people confused about their surroundings and is "a pretty scary thing for patients." He said transient global amnesia typically lasts only hours. Caselli said the Mayo Clinic sees about 24-100 similar cases a year.

Boatwright's case has stumped experts, though. The Desert Sun said Boatwright needs a translator to communicate with people speaking English. His driver's license says he lives in Florida.

"The guy Michael — it wasn’t me. I’m still Johan," Boatwright told a Desert Sun reporter through a translator during an interview.

Boatwright was found unconscious in a Motel 6 room in Palm Springs on Feb. 28, said Lisa Hunt-Vasquez, the social worker assigned to track down next-of-kin information and help him put together his story.

Clues started to emerge when his story was picked up internationally by Swedish newspapers and then the Huffington Pos. In a story published in the Desert Sun on Tuesday, Boatwright's sister Michelle Brewer said she had not talked to her brother in at least 10 years.

"He just disappeared,” said Brewer, who lives in Louisiana. "He’s always been just a wanderer. Then he’d come back when he needed some money or something from somebody. Then he’d take off again."

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The Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet said Boatwright learned to speak Swedish playing on a jousting team in Sweden with a medieval association. A U.S. Navy veteran, he told one friend that he served in the Vietnam War, according to the newspaper. He lived at times in Sweden, Mexico, as well as near his parents in Miami, the Desert Sun reported.

The Desert Sun said Boatwright was teaching English in China and flew from Hong Kong to the Palm Springs in February and was found unconscious in his hotel room days later. Doctors said the amnesia may have been triggered by some physical or emotional trauma.

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