Henry M. dies at 82; victim of brain surgery accident offered doctors key insights into memory
For 55 years, he was known to the world at large only as HM or Henry M., the survivor of brain surgery that went catastrophically wrong, leaving him with a form of amnesia that prevented him from collecting any new memories and living in a pre-1953 world.
But when he died Dec. 2 of respiratory failure at a nursing home in Windsor Locks, Conn., his tightly guarded identity was finally revealed to the world. His name was Henry Gustav Molaison and he was 82.
The ill-conceived surgery was a personal disaster, but it was a major boon to the scientific community, providing researchers with the first window into how and where memories are formed in the brain.
Over the years, more than 100 different researchers studied his memory processes, publishing their insights in dozens of scientific papers.
“He is the most dramatic example of a patient who tragically became an experiment of nature,” physiologist and Nobel laureate Eric Kandel of Columbia University said some years ago. “That single case enlightened a whole body of knowledge.”