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Woman with amnesia learns identity from family

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An unidentified woman in the hospital after being found in Carlsbad, Calif. Authorities are trying to identify the woman who was found in February 2015 and says she can't recall her identity. (Interpol via AP)

CARLSBAD, Calif. >> A woman who couldn’t recall her identity when she was found on a Southern California street earlier this year, who called herself “Sam,” has finally rediscovered who she is.

Ashley Menatta, 53, never married and has sisters in Colorado and Maryland. She was born in Pennsylvania, lived in Flagstaff, Ariz., and several years ago found her way to Southern California, where she lived in La Jolla, Vista and Carlsbad, NBC 7 San Diego reported Wednesday.

Menatta had memories of Australia and Hawaii, telling NBC 7 she recalled living in a “contemporary house” in Hawaii.

NBC 7 posted the woman’s plight on Facebook, and reported that it went viral with a Facebook reach of 21.2 million people as of Wednesday afternoon, and it was shared 200,000 times.

Menatta’s nephew watched the NBC 7 story online and immediately called his mom to tell her about the mystery woman: Aunt Ashley.

The FBI took the tip to Menatta and her friend Debbie Rough, her nurse from Tri City Medical Center in Oceanside, who championed the initial search for relatives. The phone call led to tears and details of her forgotten past, NBC 7 reported.

“It was extremely emotional,” Menatta told NBC 7. “We were all sobbing. They’re so sorry I had to go through what I did during this time without them.”

After talking with her two sisters, she told NBC 7 she learned that she lived a free-spirited life in Arizona more than 10 years ago and apparently was on her way to Tucson. She was supposed to call her family after she arrived, but never did. Her family didn’t think it was odd because she traveled a lot, she said.

Menatta had turned to the Internet in search of her family.

“I just feel like there’s this thick fog over my mind, my memory, over my brain that I can’t see through,” the woman who goes by the name Sam told KNSD-TV in San Diego this week.

The woman, who speaks English and some French, wrote online that she feels a connection with Australia. She remembers eating breakfast at a seaside organic restaurant near Perth and swimming in a saltwater pool. She also said she has recollections of living in Hawaii. 

First responders found the woman in distress in February in the beach community of Carlsbad near San Diego and took her to the hospital where she said doctors diagnosed her with ovarian cancer and amnesia. 

NBC 7 reported doctors at Tri City Medical Center told her the antibodies from the tumor possibly caused “retrograde amnesia.”

Interpol posted the woman’s description online, and the FBI circulated her information to other law enforcement agencies in hopes of finding people who know her. 

Investigators interviewed her and took her fingerprints, said Darrell Foxworth, a special agent for the FBI in San Diego. 

Foxworth added the FBI is currently not investigating. 

With the help of several nurses, the woman recently appealed for help on Facebook. She said she was recently discharged from the hospital after undergoing surgery to remove the tumor and lost her hair during chemotherapy. 

“My prognosis is not good and I pray my family will be found soon,” she wrote. 

NBC 7 San Diego contributed to this report

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