Woman Suffers Memory Loss After Sinus Infection Medication Sends Her Into Coma


Just before her 27th birthday in 2000, Alison Sagese went to a walk-in medical clinic with a sinus infection.

The doctor prescribed an antibiotic and a decongestant. Two years before, she’d had an allergic reaction to macrolide antibiotics, but her doctor assured her the one he’d prescribed, Biaxin, was safe.

After going to the pharmacy to pick up the medication, Alison took one and instantly felt nauseous. Worried her doctor was wrong, she told her pharmacist, who instead said it was most likely a side-effect of the decongestant.

So she took another dose of the Biaxin the following morning before going out on a walk. But while she was out, her throat started to close and no one was around to help.

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“I felt my throat close up, and my tongue started to swell,” she said. “I panicked because there was no one around. I just remember seeing a tree and feeling grass and then everything went black.”

Search parties found her after looking for three days. She was found on her birthday, confused and covered in blood.

An MRI revealed that Alison went into a coma from a reaction to her medication. She suffered an anoxic brain injury, “which occurs when neural cells die while the brain is deprived of oxygen for several minutes or more.”

The antibiotic her doctor prescribed was a macrolide antibiotics, and despite warning her doctor and her medical records being on file with her pharmacy, no one caught the potentially deadly mistake.

At the hospital, Alison could no longer speak, move, or remember how to eat. And when she went home, she had to learn how to live all over again.

“It started off extremely bad, like newborn baby-type bad,” she explained. “Even when I went home, my mom had to feed me, dress me, bath me, as I lay there completely unresponsive like a baby. My parents couldn’t really believe what was happening, and I don’t remember any of that time.”

She couldn’t identify ordinary objects, close friends, or her family.

This was just the beginning of Alison’s nearly two decade-long journey back to feeling like herself again.

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“I never got the short-term memory back, but six months after, I kind of recognized my mom, but I couldn’t speak an adult sentence,” she says. “A year later, I still wasn’t functioning like an adult, but I was able to read and write again, the basic stuff.”

Throughout her 18-year recovery, Alison has stunned doctors with her abilities, but she still fights every day for the life that was taken from her.

“Ever since that happened, my whole life has revolved around trying to be normal,” she said.. “All I want to do is get back to my old self and I was doing everything I could to do that. My heart was telling me that I really want to be that person, but my brain wasn’t letting me be that person. I was trying really hard.”

Now a spokesperson for Brain Injury Association of America, Alison admits the road has been long, but that there is still hope for those like her.

“It’s a long road with a lot of challenges, but I think that if your spirit is still in there, it really goes a long way. Although you might not be able to do the same things and everything is way more difficult, keep positive and keep being strong. I think that’s the biggest thing, even if you don’t feel like the same person, know that you’re still in there.”

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Liz was a senior story editor for The Western Journal.
Liz was a senior story editor for The Western Journal.
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
Health, Entertainment, Faith