Who Am I? And Who Are You?

updated 03/15/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/15/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

Painful memories? These days John Prigg might welcome a few. On Feb. 15, Prigg, 17, one of the top high school wrestlers in Texas, was in the middle of a match in a town called The Colony, when he tumbled out of the ring and hit his head on the floor. He lost consciousness and was rushed to the hospital, but a CAT scan showed no abnormalities. The only problem; When he awoke, his memory was gone. "It was like he was in a trance," says his father, John.

Since then John has found himself marooned in a strange nether-world. He can speak and write, but he can't understand what he is reading. A former football player, he now had no idea what a football was—but when handed a ball he was able to throw a perfect spiral. He didn't know what the word shower meant. "So I took him in there," says his mother, Donna, who along with her husband runs a firewood business in Midlothian, Texas, near Dallas, "and said, "This is the bar of soap; this is how you use it.' "After being reunited with the family's two dogs, he happened to spot a horse in a field nearby. "Whose big dog is that?" he asked his mother.

According to Charles Tuen, the neurologist treating John, such extensive forms of amnesia are rare when no real signs of trauma are noticeable. "Think of a big building where the telephone lines get all disconnected," says Tuen. In most cases the lines reconnect, which is what is expected to happen in John's case. "I just want to remember," he says. In fact, each day he's able to recall a bit more—but it still isn't much. Recently he went with two friends to seethe movie 50 First Dates, in which Drew Barrymore plays amnesia victim. Later his parents asked what he'd seen, "I can't remember, he said. "But it was about somebody who couldn't remember things." Somehow, that made him happy.

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