Mastering his memories
Everyday is dejà vu all over again for a young Truckee man.
Dustin DeMont can remember what ice cream tastes like, but not that he ate it for lunch. He can see that your eyes are brown, but will forget when you close them. For the past six years, DeMont has been unable to sustain short-term memories.
“All my friends would call me a hypochondriac because I had a lot of strange things going on, but when I would visit the doctor he would tell me I was fine,” DeMont said.
But he wasn’t fine. During DeMont’s sophomore year at the University of California at San Diego, the benign tumor that had been growing deep inside his brain hemorrhaged. Life as he knew it was over.
The three weeks he spent in the hospital and the year that followed are difficult for DeMont to recall. Doctors couldn’t remove the tumor, which sits on his hypothalamus, for fear that invasive surgery would only worsen matters.
A shunt, or tube, was implanted under his skin to run from his brain to his stomach and allow cerebral fluid to circulate around the tumor roadblock. And a tiny hole was drilled in his skull to allow for the extraction of fluid that fills a cyst now growing on the tumor.
“Normalcy then to normalcy now, so far, aren’t even comparable,” DeMont said. “I can make new memories, but there is nothing set in stone that makes that happen.”
But considering the hand he was dealt, conversations with DeMont are surprisingly routine. He jokes, laughs, and can remember the year ” 1998 ” when he and the rest of the Truckee High School basketball team won the state championship. He also remembers running track and his stint as student body president.
The things that he can’t remember ” appointments, new phone numbers, random
details ” are punched into his Palm Pilot and kept in the pocket of his pants.
“Without my Palm Pilot, I walk through the day going, ‘Where am I supposed to be? What am I supposed to be doing?'” he said.
He also relies on a voice recorder and his digital photography hobby to keep him up-to-date.
But perhaps the hardest part, he says, isn’t the little frustrations or the dozens of “Oh Yea” moments he experiences daily, it’s the adjustment to being 25 and alone.
“The personal change to his social life has been the hardest,” said his mother, Claudia Waters. “He’s on his own and is really alone if he is not at work.”
And besides that, how to you develop a new relationship with someone you can’t remember?
“It’s not just anyone who can be there or be a friend,” DeMont said.
But thanks to Waters and the Truckee Sunrise Rotary, DeMont now has a new companion ” Dante the labradoodle.
“When we were told of Dustin’s need, a grant of $1,000 was quickly approved for the service dog,” said Rotarian Paul Duggan.
The gift came from the Rotary’s community service program, the Angel Network, which makes one-time cash grants to deserving recipients, Duggan said.
Dante now accompanies DeMont wherever he goes, including to work at Glenshire Elementary, where DeMont is an intensive aid instructor, tutoring students and assisting non-native speakers with their English skills. DeMont is also fluent in Spanish, a memory skill not impacted by the tumor.
“I think it’s good for the children here to know that people deal with disabilities,” Waters said.
But a few hours of tutoring each week isn’t enough to keep the 20-something fulfilled.
“I really don’t know about the future,” he said. “That’s the part that really gets to me. I have always seen myself with a college degree, so not having that is not easy.
“I feel like everything that I want to do is not as doable as it used to be. I just ” I just don’t know what will happen…”
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