Nurse with ‘face blindness’ can’t recognise friends, family or even herself

A 22-year-old woman who sees every single face as just "two eyes, a nose and a mouth" cannot recognise her own family or even herself after suffering the UK's worst case of face blindness.

Hannah Read, from Rongwood, Hampshire, suffered from encephalitis – an inflammation of the brain – that was triggered by the cold sore virus, when she was just eight.

She was rushed to hospital in a coma and put on life support – but when she recovered Hannah failed to recognise the faces of her friends and family.

Specialists told Hannah she has the worst case of face blindness in the UK – and there is no cure.

Nursery nurse Hannah has to get the kids at work to wear name badges, and memorises her colleague's favourite clothes, as their faces all look the same.

When she plays sport with pals, the only way she knows who's on her team is because they wear different coloured bibs.

Hannah's visual perception means she cannot watch TV, and when dating, Hannah couldn't see if the person on the online profile was the person who showed up – or if they were a 'catfish', but she has now settled down with boyfriend Dan Hancock.

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Encephalitis can be triggered by any virus and Hannah hopes to raise awareness of this largely-unknown yet potentially fatal reaction to an infection.

Hannah's troubles began in August 2006, when she flew to Gran Canaria on holiday with her family, but on just the second day started to be violently sick.

She said: "I went to the doctor but they thought I was just dehydrated, so gave me hydration tablets, but the next day I had a really high temperature and a bad headache.

"I kept asking if I could go to bed, which was really out of character, until a became unconscious."

Hannah's dad Andy, 55, rushed her to Clinica Roca Hospital, San Augustin, in a taxi, and she suffered 15 seizures on the way there.

She was diagnosed with encephalitis, a potentially fatal inflammation of the brain, triggered by a viral infection.

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Hannah's brain had begun to swell up after contracting the cold sore virus and her body couldn't fight it off.

She was transferred to intensive care at Matermo Infantil Children's Hospital, where she fell into a coma and had to stay for three weeks.

Hannah came out of her coma, but it was weeks later that she showed signs of her brain functioning and could be flown home and transferred to Southampton General Hospital.

She was in hospital for two more weeks re-learning how to walk and talk.

Hannah said: "When I got home, when everything should have been familiar, nothing was – I couldn't find my way round the house.

"I couldn't recognise any of my family or friends, and it wasn't until about three weeks later I knew I had face blindness."

In 2012 face blindness specialist Dr Sarah Bate, from Bournemouth University, told Hannah she had the most severe case in the UK.

The lack of understanding has inspired Hannah to keep raising awareness of encephalitis and face blindness, that can be contracted through any viral infection, including Covid.

Hannah said: "The part of my brain that processes faces never recovered.

"My two sisters, Elle and Mia, are really close in age and of similar height, so I couldn't tell them apart!"

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