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Saving Face

Posted on April 4, 2019

Pastor finds help at PNRC after life-changing fall

From left: Cher Sanders,, Jim Dallery and Tamara Dallery
From left: Cher Sanders, Jim Dallery and Tamara Dallery

The next time Jim Dallery sees Cher Sanders he might not know her. But, right now, he knows exactly who she is. She’s the speech language pathologist at Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center who helped him after a rare traumatic brain injury called acquired prosopagnosia or “face blindness.”

Face blindness is the inability to recognize faces – even those of family and close friends. Up to 2.5 percent of the population are believed to be born with it. But prosopagnosia caused by stroke or injury to the brain’s occipital/temporal lobe regions is so rare one researcher believes there are only 20 known cases in the U.S.

“Everything Jim was before – extremely outgoing, extroverted, remembered every name and face – he was now just the opposite,” said his wife, Tamara Dallery, adding that he lost about 20 years of memories, saw some objects upside down and suffered extreme anxiety. “Even at home, Jim couldn’t figure out who we were. You’re living in this house with him, but he doesn’t know who you are.”

Sanders put Dallery through intense cognitive testing, taught him exercises and strategies to better cope and how to improve recall. She coordinated efforts with local and out-of-state specialists.

It was during those sessions that she first suspected he had face blindness. “Cher was the first to catch it,” Dallery said. “In our mind Cher, was our ‘point person.’ That’s how important she was to us at Patricia Neal.”

When a neuropsychologist confirmed her suspicions, the Dallerys had an answer but there is no “cure” for facial blindness. Dallery would not regain the ability to put faces and names together as he did before his injury.

Instead, Sanders taught him how to cope by closely studying someone’s face and learning cues such as gait, tone of voice, and context. He is now often able to put a name and face together and “save” that image for later recall. Still, if they put on a cap, change hairstyles or their voice changes because of a sore throat, he might not recognize a person he knows.

Today, about 80 percent of his memory has returned, and Dallery is clearly grateful to Sanders.  “I want you to know that I will spend the first billion years of eternity thanking you for what you did,” he told her. “I’m getting my life back, and I will get my life back by the grace of God. But again, I want to emphasize, this really isn’t about us, this is about what Patricia Neal and specifically, Cher, has done for us. We’re just one of many stories. But by the grace of God, we are success story.”

Click here to learn more about the services offered at the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center.