GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — Two dozen or so college-aged women are lined up to start a 5K race. That isn’t remarkable, but the fact that Caitlin Little is one of them is.
Caitlin’s high school coach knew she’d be a star … then came that day five years ago: Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017.
Caitlin was at practice at Southeast Guilford High School in Greensboro, North Carolina. The team was running when a girl stumbled and accidentally hit Caitlin on her right temple. Caitlin never blacked out but was obviously concussed. When she got to her mom’s car and had to ask how to open the door, Jennifer Little knew her little girl was in trouble.
For more than four-and-a-half years, Caitlin has woken up each morning thinking it was Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. She’d lost the ability to store long-term memories. Yes, it is like Drew Barrymore’s character in “50 First Dates,” a movie based on a woman with the same condition.
Caitlin could remember most of what happens on any given day, but her brain would reset overnight and, each morning, she woke up with no memory of the day before. Each morning, her father would wake her up and tell her what day it was and what happened all those months ago that robbed her of her memory.
“[I have to be] very organized. So I have lots of Post-It notes that say, ‘Hey, let’s do this,’ or, ‘This is new,’ or things to help me out. So it’s not as hard as I’d imagine it’d be without them,” Caitlin said in 2019.
Caitlin’s parents, Chris and Jennifer Little, immediately began researching and taking Caitlin to be seen by the best neurology specialists they could find, but no one had any answers. After being seen by 70 different physicians, a few were able to help.
Caitlin’s memory is finally coming back.
“It’s not an overnight miracle, though. It’s been going on for almost five years,” Chris said. “Especially considering the fact that most people can do something like this for about two years, and then they run out of steam, run out of money, run out of hope.”
Both of Caitlin’s parents believe she has a personality that is uniquely equipped for this challenge.
She’s a young lady with “determination…and good attitude,” Chris said.
“And trust,” Jennifer added. “She had to have trust in us to continue fighting and seeking. It’s a much harder battle if the person that is injured that you’re trying to bring out of this, if they’re not willing to do it with you, it’s almost impossible.”
After four years in which Caitlin learned to cope well with not having long-term memory, her parents weren’t sure how they’d recognize her recovery if it happened.
“The first time I recognized without question that she was remembering things was when I got home from work, and she was able to recount for me something that happened at least an hour and a half earlier about two kittens,” Chris said. “And of the five kittens, she was able to point out which two it happened to, which one got the worst of it, and then the prognosis for the one that got the worst of it.”
While she has been recovering, the one activity Caitlin most wanted to continue was running, which she did whenever she was healthy enough.
“Runners that run all the time and then stop running, they have a hard time with it because they’re not getting the dopamine they’re used to getting, and that’s her,” said Jennifer Vandiver, who was Caitlin’s high school coach and was at Hagan Stone Park to see Caitlin run Wednesday. “I think it’s helped her stay strong physically and mentally. I think having the blood go to her brain has helped, and it’s just giving her the one thing she loved.”
Caitlin was both excited and anxious to begin the race.
“I kept praying and asking for strength and endurance,” Caitlin said after the race. “It went by pretty quickly. Everyone starts out a race way too quickly. I was making sure I kept a pace that was comfortable for me.”
The fact that she remembered the course and remembered how others ran it and how she ran it shows her improvement. Her memory isn’t back completely, but her parents see her on the right path.
“It does feel like a miracle,” her mother admits.