Meet the girl who forgets every day

It was just a normal January day when something happened to shatter Donna's world.

Donna Sedgman, 50, Windsor, NSW

It had been a beautiful summer. As the holidays ended in January last year, I thought how my kids would miss the long, lazy days. My 16-year-old daughter, Marnie, had loved taking her horse Fred out for a ride, and spending time with her sister Brittany, then 14, and brother Brad, then 17.

Although Marnie was excited about starting year 11, when she came home on that first Friday and called me at work, I could tell she was looking forward to the weekend. ‘When are you coming home?’ she asked.

I was leaving work early so I told her I’d be there soon. We hung up, but half an hour later I got a call from Brittany. She sounded frantic. ‘Marnie was using the exercise machine on the porch,’ Brittany explained. ‘Then she yelled out that she couldn’t move!’ Brittany had found Marnie slumped over, conscious but unable to walk.

‘It’s probably heatstroke,’ I told her, rushing home. By the time I arrived 10 minutes later, Brittany had lifted her sister from the machine and put her in the recovery position. I called for an ambulance, clutching Marnie’s hand until it arrived.

‘You didn’t drink enough water,’ I soothed, still thinking it was heatstroke. ‘I know, I’m sorry,’ she cried. Before long, she was being taken to hospital. Brittany and I followed in the car. It’s just the heat, I kept telling myself. But when we got to hospital, I realised I was wrong…

‘Marnie had a brain haemorrhage and needs surgery,’ the doctor said. What? How could my beautiful, active daughter have been struck down?

Donna, Marni and Brittany
Donna with Marni and her sister Brittany

As my girl was airlifted to Westmead Hospital, I felt numb with fear. There, a surgeon explained what was wrong. ‘Marnie has something called an arteriovenous malformation,’ he said. ‘It’s an abnormal connection between the arteries and veins in her brain and it ruptured.’

My heart stopped as the doctors said my girl would be brain damaged. Even if she lived, she’d never be the same. As Marnie lay in a coma, fluid was drained from her brain. But the pressure in her head soared. So the following day surgeons removed a piece of her skull to create space.

Brittany and I stayed at the hospital. Please let the pressure drop, I begged. Let my daughter live. After a few hours, I was back at Marnie’s bedside when we received good news. The pressure had fallen. Marnie was going to survive. As word spread about what had happened, people in the community came forward to help mow the lawn, look after Fred and cook us meals.

Cards made by the kids at Marnie’s school brightened up her room. My girl was so loved. But the joy we felt at her beating the odds was bittersweet. Weeks later, she still couldn’t speak or move. I couldn’t help but think back to her repertoire of funny facial expressions that never failed to raise a giggle. Was that girl gone forever?

Four weeks after her collapse, her friends Tara and Ishka visited. ‘Come on Marnie, show us you’re in there,’ said Tara gently. Just then Marnie raised an eyebrow. It was amazing! We laughed and cried as we welcomed her back, and slowly she started to smile again.

Marnie had more surgery to remove the faulty vein in her brain and insert a steel plate into her skull. After that, I tried to encourage her to speak. ‘Say ‘Mum’,’ I urged one afternoon, holding her hand. For the first time, my girl took a deep breath, pursed her lips and said the word loud and clear. My heart filled with pride.

Marni’s friends visiting in hospital.

Over the next six weeks Marnie started to say more words and, with the help of a therapist, those words became sentences. She’s now regained 80 per cent of her speech and makes jokes like before.

But our girl lost something very precious. Her short-term memory. She doesn’t remember her collapse and although Marnie recalls family and friends, she forgets what’s happened to her an hour before. Instead, every day is a new day. While it was upsetting at first, I’m just glad she wakes up happy. She laughs as she always has. It’s as if she lives eternally in the moment and when we’re with her, we do too.

Now, a year after her ordeal, Marnie remains in hospital. Our goal is to bring her home. The community has raised $60,000 to help us do that. In December we moved to a wheelchair-accessible house and we’re working to secure full-time care for her.

Unfortunately, Fred had to move too, but Marnie has visited him and hopes to ride him again one day. For now she may not be the active girl she used to be, but Marnie’s spirit is still alive and I feel sure she is destined for something truly amazing.

Marnie says…

I’m looking forward to having the most important things in my life again. To going home with Mum, Britt and Brad and to riding my horse. I love my friends and I’m so grateful to them for coming to visit me and all they have done to help me go home again. I can’t wait to spend more time with them, and thank everybody who has helped me through this ordeal.

You can support Marnie at 

Originally published in that’s life! Issue 8, 2015.

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