By Dr Darold Treffert

From Volume 5 Number 2 (print edition only)

Dr DAROLD TREFFERT, chief adviser on the 1988 movie, Rain Man, and theworld’s leading expert on autistic savants (a term he coined), provides Looking Up with this moving personal tribute to his close friend, Kim Peek

ON December 19, 2009, I got a very sad phone call from Fran Peek. Kim had died unexpectedly that afternoon. He was 58 years old.

Kim Peek was the Mount Everest of memory. There have been some other memory giants of the past but none can match Kim’s factual memory - so deep and seemingly without limit -and I doubt any in the future will rival that astounding capacity either. Kim’s data bank of 15 areas of expertise - history, geography, space exploration, the Bible, sports, area codes, zip codes, maps - to name only a few, will remain, I am convinced, unsurpassed Moreover, savant mnemonists in the past were generally “without reckoning,” but in recent years Kim had become a living Google, linking all those facts with astonishing rapidity and in ways that sometimes took me a day or two to find out what the connection was. But there always was a connection. Kim was simply ahead of me with those associations, puns and witticisms.

I got to know Kim when our paths crossed around the movie Rain Man. Kim was the inspiration for that excellent film and I was a technical consultant to the movie. My first contact with Kim was a phone call. Kim asked my birth date of course and told me it was a Sunday, the evening of President Roosevelt’s first fireside chat. I didn’t know that. Then he proceeded to tell me the date and day of the week I would turn 65 and could retire. Next came my zip code, area code, television stations from Green Bay and Milwaukee broadcasting to our area, which phone company served this area, recent Packer game scores, the day, temperature and final score of the ice bowl game (at which I nearly did freeze to death).

In spite of extensive central nervous system damage from the time of birth, including an absent corpus callosum, Kim had one of the most extraordinary brain capacities I have ever encountered. Kim had memorizsed - yes, memorised - literally thousands of books. He did so with amazing rapidity, scanning paperback size books with one eye reading one page and the other eye reading the adjacent page -simultaneously. Then that material would go into his hard drive for storage. I kept waiting for the “disk full” message to come up, but it never did.

But as startling as Kim’s skills and abilities were, those are not what I will remember most about Kim. Rather, I will remember more the loving, patient, proud and accepting bond between father and son “who shared the same shadow” as Kim always described it. And whatever I have learned from Kim of scientific interest is dwarfed by what I learned from Kim and Fran about from Kim and Fran about matters of the heart.

Fran was told to put Kim in an institution. Another doctor suggested a lobotomy. But the family would have none of that. They loved him, nurtured him, celebrated his abilities, worked around his disabilities, and nourished those ‘islands of intactness’ that eventually allowed his ‘islands of genius’ surface and prosper. Yes, they cared for him. But they unconditionally cared about him as well. What a wonderful role model they have provided for so many other families who have been visited by disabilities.

After Kim’s death I put a note on the savant syndrome web site (www.savantsyndrome.com) saying that anyone who wished to send a note of condolence to Fran could do so and I would send it on to Fran. Hundreds of notes, from all over the world came flowing in -from parents of disabled children, from disabled persons themselves, from students who were touched by the presentation in their schools, some of whom are going into neuroscience now, from teachers, therapists and just plain folks who were so touched by Kim and Fran during their nearly 3 million mile journey to share their story, and shadow. Running through that cascade of appreciative notes, variously written, was really a single word: inspiration.

And that’s how Kim has left me--touched and inspired.

Kim went home for Christmas. As I told Fran when we spoke the next day, after that dreadful phone call, as I looked up in the sky that December 1 night9, there was a new star shining brightly, differently shaped from all the rest. And I was reminded of Kim’s words that he said so often: “We are all different. You don’t have to be handicapped to be different. Treat other people like you would like to be treated and the world will be a better place.”

One of the condolence messages came from China. I can’t read Chinese, so I had my computer translate it, somewhat awkwardly, for me. It said: “Kim Peek, will live in our heart forever. Thank Fran.”

Indeed Kim will live in our hearts forever. And indeed, thank you Fran.

Looking Up, 16-page English PDF Edition, Back Issues and Current Issue

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