Nebraska Man Looks to Instagram to Recall Life Before Stroke

Joseph Miller says his Instagram page helps him remember.

ByABC News
April 28, 2015, 6:44 PM
Joseph Miller suffered a stroke on Oct. 7, 2014.
Joseph Miller suffered a stroke on Oct. 7, 2014.
Courtesy Joseph Miller

— -- Six months ago, Joseph Miller was a 24-year-old accountant living in Los Angeles who enjoyed painting and writing poetry.

Then on Oct. 7, 2014, he suffered from a serious stroke and his life changed dramatically.

After he returned from a class, "I was suffering from an intense migraine," Miller told ABC News. "I wanted to write some poetry that day and I couldn’t seem to think straight. I told my roommate I didn’t feel good and I went to bed."

"That's the last moments I have of my life," he said.

Miller's roommate found him three days later collapsed on the floor and brought him to Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, California, where he was placed on life support for 17 days, and fell into a coma, Miller later learned.

Two weeks later, Miller, now 25, woke up unable to move or speak.

"It took a month before I was able to pronounce basic words, communicate my needs," Miller said.

Miller said he was able to remember his mother, but no one else, or nothing from his life prior to experiencing a stroke.

Soon after, Miller moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he could begin his recovery process in the presence of his family.

That's when he noticed he had an Instagram account.

"When I saw the Instagram app, I remembered, 'oh yeah I have an Instagram,'" Miller said. "It took me a while to log in because I forgot my password. When I got in, I was like 'wow.'"

"A photo would stand out to me and I'd read a caption and I'd say 'oh yeah, I do remember! I do remember surfing in San Diego.'"

Dr. Steven Cramer, a neurologist and stroke specialist at UC Irvine Health in Orange County, California, said that Miller looking to Instagram is just another way to practice exercising the brain after a stroke.

"If he's a couple of months out of the stroke, this is a person's brain who's kind of like a kindergartner who's excited to learn again," Cramer said. "When someone is having stroke recovery, I always say the more practice, the better. The idea that it's Instagram is that it's very accessible. Anything that jogs the memory can help bring back prior memories. It can itself be a match that ignites other tinder memories that can be in association."

Miller said his Instagram page enables him get to know himself again and helps him learn about the person he was and the things he enjoyed doing.

"On my own I don’t remember much about my childhood," he said. "I'm still working on that, but it's fascinating that Instagram has played a huge role in recovery and is helping me to remember.

"It's through Instagram that I remembered that I worked in accounting, that I liked go boulder rock climbing, that I love meeting complete strangers," Miller said, noting that in addition to Instagram, he is also reviewing his life before having a stroke through journals and video diaries.

He said he plans to become an advocate for young stroke survivors and hopes to create an art therapy organization for young children with disabilities.