Springfield native Amanda Mudd Burden endured a nearly impossible ordeal and came through it stronger than ever. After seeing her husband, near death with a rare brain disease, Amanda was overjoyed to see him recover. But she and her young family still had to deal with the devastating memory loss that the disease inflicted on their beloved husband and father.
“I don’t remember the illness hitting, at all,” Tracy said. “I still don’t have that memory, at all. I’ve gained a little bit of memory back, but when I first woke up, I didn’t know who she was – my wife of eight years – I didn’t know who she was.”
Motivated by a desire to help others, Amanda and Tracy published “Our Journey of Faith through Encephalitis” earlier this year. The book chronicles the family’s inspiring victory over hardship through their love, faith and determination.
The story began when Tracy and Amanda were both students at the University of Kentucky.
“I had a roommate, he kind of dated a lot of different girls,” Tracy said. “There was three of us guys living in a house across from campus. He shows up with this one here and, when they walked out the door, I told my other roommate, ‘that one’s mine. Nobody touch. Hands off. That one’s mine.’”
“I was in my junior year when I first met Tracy,” Amanda said. “When I saw him, there was something drawing me to him, even though he had another girl next to him.”
During a bad ice storm in 2003, Tracy, Amanda and several other students congregated in an off-campus apartment that still had power.
“One night, everybody dispersed and the only people there were Tracy and I,” said Amanda. “It gave us an opportunity to get to know each other better. We talked all night long. About a week later, one of his roommates said, ‘did you hear Tracy broke up with his girlfriend?’ and I was like, “really?’ And then, the next day, I got an email from him. So, I replied back and that’s how it all got started.”
A few years later, Tracy wrote a short biography for the family’s sheep farm website, included in “Our Journey.”
“I met Amanda while I was in grad school and a couple years later we were married under a tent in the pasture where our sheep now graze,” the biography reads. “On that day, the rain poured down and a lifetime of fun and adventure began. You see, we had just bought our house with about 10 acres, knowing we wanted to raise livestock.”
In 2004, the couple married and started their life together on the Salvisa farm. The following year, Amanda completed her Civil Engineering degree and Tracy completed his Master’s Degree in Animal Science.
Tracy got a job, that he loved, as a research coordinator at the University of Kentucky Sheep Unit in Versailles. He also started his own sheep farm in Salvisa. The couple were blessed with a daughter, Lyla, in 2007, and a son, Tipton, in 2011.
In “Our Journey,” Amanda writes about a character trait contributing to Tracy’s illness.
“He’s a highly motivated individual and driven to succeed in all that he does,” the book reads. “These are merely some of the many aspects about him that I admired when I fell in love with him nine years ago. Little did I know these admirable traits would drive him down to the ground and nearly kill him in the prime of our lives.”
Amanda explained that Tracy’s overworking made him vulnerable to a virus carried by a third of the population – the cold sore virus – that can be deadly if it gets to the brain.
“When you overdo it, you work too much, you have stress, your immune system drops to the bottom level,” Amanda said. “The virus, that’s just hanging around in your body, attacks. So, it typically attacks people with this Type-A personality, who are really go-getters, really driven in life, because they don’t make themselves stop.”
In May 2012, after driving a trailer load of sheep to Oklahoma, Tracy returned home - totally exhausted - to his wife and children. The virus took advantage of the hard-working farmer’s weakened immune system and started attacking his brain.
In “Our Journey,” Amanda describes the events leading up to Tracy’s hospitalization. Suspense builds through the first few chapters, as well as in any fiction novel.
“We stood together on that beautiful sunny day in the driveway watching our children play happily in the yard,” the book reads. “Looking around at all we had, we talked about how blessed we were and how God has never put us through any trials. We talked about how we’ve never had any reason to fight in our marriage and named all the things we’ve been blessed with, our home, our children, our health, our jobs, our church and how we’ve never been tested. The perfect life… the perfect family. Little did we know what the next day would bring. Were we ready?”
Readers of “Our Journey” will experience a riveting account of how the family was tested during Tracy’s illness.
During a visit to Springfield, the couple described the ongoing aftermath.
“He’s lost about 10 years,” Amanda said. “He still has his long-term memory, like his family and where he grew up. But his family life, our children, our wedding – all those sorts of things were gone.”
Tracy seems perfectly normal when you sit and talk with him. But if you’re a new acquaintance, he probably won’t remember meeting you the next day. The good news is that Tracy’s memory is improving.
“It’s like leaps and bounds from where I was, but nowhere near completely back,” he said. “If I talk to you today, tomorrow, I may not remember it, without some help.”
‘The further you get away [in time], the less likely he’s going to have any memory of this at all,” added Amanda.
Because of his memory loss, Tracy lost his job at the University of Kentucky. The couple moved from their farm to Tracy’s hometown of Morgantown, where, coincidentally, his family had a vacant home. Amanda found a full-time job as an engineer.
Despite the ordeal the family’s been through, Amanda will tell you they’re the luckiest people in the world.
“We’re hoping to start building a new house soon,” she said. “Right now, we’re just trying to live each day thankfully. We’re just so thankful that we have him in the form we do now. By golly, if nothing else changed, we’ve still got Daddy. We’ve still got a husband. A couple of people have still got their son and there is a whole community of people who love him so much because he is such a good person.
“It could happen to anybody at any time. That’s why you have to live your life as though it’s the last day. Love hard, stop and smell the roses. Enjoy life. Don’t sweat the small stuff. It doesn’t matter.”
“Our Journey of Faith through Encephalitis” can be found on amazon.com.