Natalie Akoorie

Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Cyclist offers hope to amnesia sufferer

Gary Sullivan. Photo / APN
Gary Sullivan. Photo / APN

The story of Hamilton cyclist Robbie Price, who lost 10 years of his life when he suffered amnesia following an accident, captivated readers and prompted one man to share a similar story to offer hope to Mr Price.

Gary Sullivan crashed off his bike during a cycling race in 1978 in Melbourne, smashing his head on the concrete track and losing a month of memory.

The Rotorua designer, now 55, was so struck by Mr Price's story in last Saturday's Weekend Herald because "there but for blind luck I might have been the same as him or he might have been the same as me".

"I thought that if I just let him know that I had a similar experience with different results that eventually changed it might help him. It's a terrible thing to have happened, but it probably will get better."

Just 20 at the time of the fateful race, Mr Sullivan originally from Auckland had spent seven years working towards a career as a successful track cyclist. He had moved to Melbourne and was racing in a velodrome when two competitors crashed in front of him, catapulting Mr Sullivan over the top and head first into the track.

"I remember waking up one morning and realising I was in hospital and looking quickly to see what my body looked like and finding that I had all my attachments," he said.

A nurse explained he had been in hospital 10 days and although he could not remember, Mr Sullivan had been in and out of consciousness, conversing and interacting with visitors including his parents during that time.

"I don't remember 10 days of my life," he said. "I don't remember anything about that, and still don't."

However, memory from the month before the accident, which had also disappeared, slowly returned over the months following the crash.

These days, it's those months after the accident that remain hazy and Mr Sullivan said he sympathised with Mr Price.

"It's a horrible thought. Your life is a series of experiences and if they're taken away ... if you lose your memories what have you got?

"My case wasn't anywhere near as bad as Robbie's, but my father said it changed my personality. It made me less aggressive than I was before."

Mr Sullivan suffered bad headaches for about six months after the crash and was told he could never cycle again. However, he still cycles and mountain bikes, and today he runs an online business selling mountain biking apparel.

Meanwhile, Mr Price is under strict orders from doctors to rest for the next fortnight. The 43-year-old scientist crashed into a traffic sign placed in a cycle path on his way to work and woke up thinking he was 33 and still living in Australia.

Mr Price knew his wife but thought his two teenage sons were still aged 5 and 3.

He couldn't remember anything that had happened during the past decade including major world events such as the Christchurch earthquakes.

This week, he said a "few minutes" of memory had returned but he had begun suffering headaches.

- NZ Herald

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