Fall appears on Jeff Probst Show

Posted October 31, 2012 at 11:11 am

Explains to the world how she lives with prosopagnosia

Tara Fall-color.tif

By Kim Brooks, Express Editor

The Jeff Probst Show is known for airing human interest stories and allowing everyday people to tell their stories. His new talk show on NBC not only features celebrities, but every day people, perhaps your next door neighbor…

In fact, last Wednesday, Oct. 24, former Monticello resident Tara (Flannagan) Fall was a guest on The Jeff Probst Show to talk about having face blindness.

The Monticello Express did a feature on Fall last July after she gave an informative presentation in Iowa City of her condition.

Some background information on Fall, which led to her appearance on the talk show… In 1991, she suffered a seizure. The seizures got progressively worse over the years. Doctors diagnosed Fall in 2002 with “status epileptis,” which Fall defined in July as meaning she had life-threatening seizures.

In 2003, Fall had brain surgery at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City for her seizures. A section of her brain was removed. During that surgery, Fall unexpectedly had a stroke. This had a serious effect on her brain activity.

The lasting effect is known as “prosopagnosia,” face blindness.

In the article on the front page of the Express on July 20, 2011, Fall explained that when she sees someone once, the memory or image of that person is not ingrained in her mind. She remembers seeing you, but not the image of your face.

To help Fall put someone’s image together, she uses other mechanisms such as hair color, body image, clothing, the way they walk, etc. All of these help Fall distinguish one from another. For example, during The Jeff Probst Show, Fall and her husband Ron explained that if they are going to be around a group of people, he usually wears a bright-colored hat or shirt to stand out. Or when their two daughters, Ana, 11, and Kylee, 9, go off to school, they make sure their mom knows what they are wearing. When Tara comes to pick them up from school, she can pick them out of the crowd of school kids. As Fall said on the show, she knows she has two blond girls, but in California, everyone is blond.

When Fall’s parents, David and Diane Flannagan of Monticello, first found out about their daughter’s diagnosis, they said they felt helpless. “It took a long time to understand it,” said Diane.

She talked about going to meet Tara at a hotel in Iowa City one day. Diane was waiting for her in the lobby. When Tara walked into the open room, she walked right past her mother.

“I see a face,” explained Fall. “I see a whole face every time I look at someone. I see you when we talk. Just because I do not remember a face does not mean I will not remember every detail about our conversation. I just don’t remember what you look like.”

While Fall was only on The Jeff Probst Show for a half hour of the hour-long show, she said prosopagnosia is not something that can be explained to someone in five minutes, or even a half hour. Aside from her time on the show itself, the producers and crew also spent some time in the Fall home, interviewing Ana and Kylee and Fall’s husband Ron, as well as taping the Fall family in their natural setting, wanting to convey how they function on an everyday basis.

Fall has done several televised interviews as well as published interviews and maintains a blog (http://findingstrengthtostandagain.wordpress.com). She said it was through these mediums that the show found out about her condition and wanted to talk with her more in depth about a possible appearance.

“I was told someone on staff first heard of my story on the Today Show and wanted to talk with me since then,” Fall said. “He (a staff member of The Jeff Probst Show) felt his show seemed to be a good venue for the inspiration he was hoping to illustrate.”

While this show is a nationally televised show and episodes appear online, Fall was obviously hesitant at first. She said her story has been sensationalized in the past, and not knowing much about Probst or his show, she wanted to look into it first.

“It (prosopagnosia) was made to look like I have extreme disabilities and my children are the victims,” Fall said of past experiences. “It is very important to me I never allow this to happen again.”

Overall, Fall was very pleased with The Jeff Probst Show experience. She watched past episodes of the new talk show, which debuted just this season, and talked at length to the show’s staff.

“I was impressed with how they picked and presented stories that were unique,” Fall said. “They took these stories and created an educational and inspirational piece that could help people better understand how others overcome challenges.” Fall said she felt her story was a good fit.

Before they flew Fall and her daughters to Los Angeles for the show, they filmed footage inside their home. Fall’s husband is in the U.S. Navy and just happened to be home during this time to get in on the action. Fall said she was more than willing to allow them into her home.

“Everyone needs to see that even though some people have disabilities, we still have abilities,” Fall said. These very same words were uttered during Fall’s interview with the Express last July as well.

One thing Fall was adamant about where the interviews were concerned, was knowing what would be asked of her family. Producers of the show wanted to know what the girls enjoy doing with their mom and how they help her when needed. With Ron, they inquired about when he first met Tara and how they deal with the challenges of prosopagnosia together. They filmed for roughly 10 hours, of which Fall explained was reduced to about 10 minutes in the segment.

“I was pleased with how the show took my story and presented it to the world,” said Fall. Not being able to see what goes on the air beforehand, Fall said, “This is always nerve-racking for me. The Jeff Probst Show demonstrated life with prosopagnosia as a condition that does not need to limit living fully.”

One trick the show had up its sleeve was flying Fall’s parents, David and Diane Flannagan, out to Los Angeles. They placed them in the audience, in the front row. Probst asked Fall to look out into the audience to see if anyone looked familiar at all. Fall did not indicate a resemblance in anyone. That was when Probst pointed her parents out. The family shared an emotional embrace on stage.

“By the lead-up of the questions, I knew there was someone in the audience I should recognize,” admitted Fall. “But I was looking for the producers I had talked to at length of the lady that had just taken me around the set.

“Never before had anyone gone to those lengths to prove my lack of recognition. With this condition, you live in the moment with what you see.”

The Flannagans said a producer of the show called them to ask questions about Fall and her condition. Diane said they talked for about 20 minutes and then the show called back again, this time asking if they’d be interested in appearing on the show.

“They wanted to have a human element of Tara’s story,” explained Diane. “What it’s like to not recognize us, her parents.”

Diane said it was hard to keep their visit a secret from Fall and her family. They made sure no one posted anything online as well.

“We just told Tara good luck on the show and to call us when she was done,” Diane said.

When Probst revealed her parents, the Flannagans were overcome with emotion. Diane said she kept telling herself not to cry on TV.

“What an opportunity!” said David. “We were so fortunate to be a part of this.”

They enjoyed their time on The Jeff Probst Show as well. David said he watched a few episodes himself before flying out to get an idea of what the show was all about.

“Everyone was really kind on the show and treated us well,” he said.

Fall said she is not out to gain attention, but rather to educate people. She said at least 2 percent of the population is diagnosed with prosopagnosia.

“Some people are not intentionally being rude if they don’t remember who you are. Help them out,” urged Fall. “Regarding life, enjoy every moment of it! Adversity hits every person.”

To further educate people, Fall said she is currently fishing for a publisher for her book, which offers “explanations and coping techniques that helped me thrive with prosopagnosia.

“The more I can learn from others and people can learn from me, the more prepared I will be for the opportunity to finish this book and make more of a positive impact,” Fall said about her experiences.

As for life in the Fall house, it could not be more normal. Fall said her daughters don’t consider themselves celebrities for having been on TV shows in the past.

“They don’t see me as having any ‘unique condition,’” said Fall. She said she likes the fact that her girls see their family as any other family.

“This is our normal. Prosopagnosia, stroke, military family, eyesight loss; regardless of it all, our normal allows us to thrive in life. This is the wonderful life I am grateful we have been given the chance to live.”

PHOTO: Tara Fall, formerly of Monticello, appeared on “The Jeff Probst Show” on Wednesday, Oct. 24. Probst interviewed Fall about having prosopagnosia, or facial blindness. At one point during the show, Probst asked Fall to look into the audience where her parents, David and Diane Flannagan, were seated. Probst surprised Fall by bringing her parents on the show. (Photo courtesy of The Jeff Probst Show)