Waking Up is Hard to Do: Rare Disorder Causes Weeks of Sleep

After a number of conflicting opinions, Rhett's parents finally learned what was wrong with their child: Doctors diagnosed Rhett with an extremely rare condition called chiari malformation.

"The brain literally is squeezed into the spinal column. What happens is you get compression, squeezing, strangulating of the brain stem, which has all the vital functions that control sleep, speech, our cranial nerves, our circulatory system, even our breathing system," said ABC News medical consultant Dr. Marie Savard.

In order to relieve this pressure, doctors earlier this year performed a surgery that would afford more space in the boy's skull for his brain. Surgeons made an incision at the base of Rhett's skull to the top of his neck and removed the bone around the brain stem and spinal cord.

Doctors expected results of the surgery, conducted in May, to take up to a year to manifest.

"There is a 50-50 chance that the sleep will improve," Lamb said. "Once the sleep improves, we can work on the behavioral stuff. He's very irritable all of the time."

"I would love to see him play and have a good time and be happy," she said.

For others with similar sleep-deprivation conditions, a lack of sleep can have serious detrimental health effects. Several studies since 2001 have linked a lack of sleep to heart disease and various mental disorders.

When You Can't Forget

For most of us, it is difficult to imagine a life in which nothing is forgotten.

But for a few people, every moment they live is indelibly etched into memory.

Wisconsin resident Brad Williams is one of these people. His extensive memory allows him to recall almost any news event and anything he has experienced, including specific dates and even the weather.

"I was sort of a human Google for my family," the 52-year-old told "Good Morning America" in his first television interview earlier this year. "I've always been able to recall things."

Another case is a woman who is simply known as "AJ" who revealed her condition to University of California at Irvine brain researcher James McGaugh, one of the world's leading experts on how the human memory system works.

Like Williams, AJ can answer obscure questions with mind-blowing accuracy -- such as the weather on a particular day several years in the past, or the details of a decades-old news item.

The condition is known among brain researchers as hyperthymesic syndrome, based on the Greek word thymesis for "remembering" and hyper, meaning "more than normal."

McGaugh told ABC News' Lee Dye that while the brains of these people are able to perform amazing feats of recall, it is still not fully understood exactly how this occurs. One hypothesis is that the "wiring" of the brains of those with hyperthymesia is set up in such a way that their brains are better able to organize and categorize information for later access.

Past this, however, researchers are stumped.

"In order to explain a phenomenon you have to first understand the phenomenon," McGaugh said. "We're at the beginning."

When Your Memory Disappears in a Flash

Memory can likewise be exceedingly fragile. Perhaps no one is more familiar with this fact than 57-year-old Beki Propst, who 10 years ago experienced a grand mal seizure that robbed her of a lifetime of memories.

"Everyone I knew before says my personality is the same," Propst told ABCNews.com. "But I don't know if I'm the same person."

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