What if the person you married forgot who you were before you even made it to the honeymoon?
For one Texas couple, marriage became a blind date when the groom came down with amnesia days after stating his wedding vows.
"In my eyes, I saw her as a stranger, but in her eyes, she saw me as her husband," explained Sean McNulty, whose health problem began when he disappeared on the way to their honeymoon.
Twin Troubles After Wedding
Amy and Sean McNulty's wedding day started with the usual fanfare, but ended with a shock. One of Sean's good friends was in a serious car accident after the event and ended up in a coma.
The newlyweds were reluctant to leave his side but were encouraged by family and friends to make the honeymoon trip according to plans. At the airport, as they prepared to head off on their trip, another mishap would occur.
"We parked our car and took a shuttle bus to the terminal," Amy explained to "Primetime Live" co-anchor Chris Cuomo. Sean "realized that he had forgotten his wallet. And he said, 'Well, it's probably in the car, you know, I'll be right back.' "
But he didn't return.
Amy grew increasingly nervous as she waited for him in the terminal. They both ultimately missed the flight. Amy contacted police, who found the missing groom wandering near a motel three days later. He was disoriented, covered in bug bites and had no concept of his identity.
"I said … 'Do you know your name?' " said Amy. "And he said 'no' and, and I said, 'Do you remember who I am?' and he just shook his head. It was very scary."
Doctors Investigate as Sean Meets His Family
Sean could not recall any personal details from his life. He forgot his favorite foods, even how an orange tasted, and did not recognize his mother or new wife.
"Well see, I didn't know what 'wife' and 'mom' were at the time" said Sean.
For the new bride, the challenge was defining a marriage to a man who viewed her as a stranger. "I wondered, you know, is he going to remember me? How is our relationship going to — you know, form?" said Amy.
This was a big change after a six-year courtship and plenty of shared memories.
"I had to learn to ask him can I hug you. I mean that was hard," said Amy. "And then when he finally started hugging back, that was nice."
Brain Misplaced Memories
When Amy brought Sean home from the hospital, she had to give him a tour of their home. He couldn't even remember what it meant to hear music, a big deal considering he had a room devoted to his record collection and worked as a disc jockey.
According to psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Brown, in this case, Sean's brain disassociated with his identity.
"He doesn't know who Sean McNulty is and has no personal memories or autobiographical memories to account for who he might be," said Brown.
"It's sort of like if you were to write text on your computer and then you stored it and you tried to access it but you forgot the file name, and you know it's there but you can't get at it," said Brown. "His memory is like that. He still has the file."
The memories were expected to return, leaving his friends and family with the task of trying to help revive his past. Flipping through photos from a Hawaiian vacation, Sean had little to add.
"It looks like a fun trip ... like I had a good time with some fun friends, but I don't remember it."
Standing by Her Man
Instead of struggling to reclaim his past, Sean began to focus on creating new memories with a very supportive mate. I said, "for better or worse, but the worse just came before the better," said Amy.
Fortunately, the better times did soon arrive, on the eve of their first anniversary.
The couple decided to mark the event with a much-delayed honeymoon and ended up with a truly special occasion. The night before the trip, Sean's memories flooded back in an instant.
"I looked across and saw a picture of Amy ... and it was kind of like tunnel vision," said Sean. "It just kind of hit me.
"I just kind of sat down on the bed and it was a very overwhelming feeling I had," said Sean. "Just mixed emotions on every kind of range."
Amy was equally stunned. "I couldn't quite believe it."
He soon remembered everything: his love of sushi, their previous trip to the airport and their wedding. "I remember shoving cake in her face," said Sean. "It was great."
Brown attributes the onset of the amnesia to a series of stressful moments. "There's never a single causal explanation for these things," said Brown. "It's the underlying personality issue of a style of avoidance and a precipitating event like the severe accident and near-death of his friend at his wedding."
Amy said it was good to get back her dear friend and love. "I remember when that started happening. And I felt him getting closer to me and coming to me -- for affection more and more and opening up to me."
Sean viewed the experience as a chance to confirm he picked the right bride.
"I got to see how much she loves me. And I don't think some people realize how much some people love them," said Sean. "We have a much stronger and closer bond from the experience. I couldn't have found a better woman to spend my life with."
This story originally aired on Nov. 26, 2003.