People with severe brain injuries sometimes emerge from a coma awake but unresponsive, leaving families with painful questions. Are they aware? Can they think and feel? Do they have any chance of recovery?
A new study has found that PET scans may help answer these wrenching questions. It found that a significant number of people labeled vegetative had received an incorrect diagnosis and actually had some degree of consciousness and the potential to improve. Previous studies using electroencephalogram machines and M.R.I. scanners have also found signs of consciousness in supposedly vegetative patients.
“I think these patients are kind of neglected by both medicine and society,” said Dr. Steven Laureys, an author of the new study and the director of the Coma Science Group at the University of Liège in Belgium. “Many of them don’t even see a medical doctor or a specialist for years. So I think it’s very important to ask the question, are they unconscious?”
In the United States, 100,000 to 300,000 people are thought to be minimally conscious, and an additional 25,000 are vegetative. In Belgium, the combined incidence of the two conditions is about 150 new cases per year, Dr. Laureys said.
Dr. Laureys and his colleagues studied 122 patients with brain injuries, including 41 who had been declared vegetative — awake but with no behavioral signs of awareness. People who are vegetative for a year are thought to have little or no chance of recovering, and the condition can become grounds for withdrawing medical treatment. Terri Schiavo, in a vegetative state for 15 years, died in 2005 in Florida after courts allowed the removal of her feeding tube. Continue reading
Terry Wallis showed only fleeting hints of consciousness for 19 years after he suffered a brain injury in a road accident. But then, in 2003, at age 39, he began to speak. It started with “Mom,” and then “Pepsi,” but soon he was slowly stringing sentences together and holding down his end of a conversation.
Far too often, patients like Wallis are given up for gone, left to languish in nursing homes where no one bothers with physical therapy or even to check for glimmers of regained consciousness, says Joseph Fins, a medical ethicist at Weill Cornell Medical College.
That’s at odds with a growing body of research showing that many patients with no outward signs of awareness retain some degree of consciousness. “We began to see patients who looked like they were vegetative, but they weren’t,” said Fins. “They were beginning to show responsiveness, they were sort of breaking the rules.”
Here is some new research for a court to consider prior to sentencing another person in a vegetative state to death by dehydration , as was done to Terri Schiavo:
“Brain imaging techniques are helping us to understand more about what some of these patients can and can’t do, particularly things they can do that might not be apparent from standard clinical examination,” said Adrian Owen of the University of Western Ontario’s Centre for Brain and Mind. The British neuroscientist moved to Canada last year from the University of Cambridge.
“His official clinical condition has been that he was in a vegetative state. But his family have always maintained that there is more going on with Scott — that he is aware of many things going on around him, and even that he was able to communicate,” Owen said in an interview with Postmedia News. Continue reading
Three years ago new high-tech scans revealed that his brain was functioning normally.
His case has only just been revealed in a scientific paper released by the man who ‘saved’ him, top neurological expert Dr Steven Laureys.
‘Medical advances caught up with him,’ said Dr Laureys, who believes there may be many similar cases of false comas around the world.
Dr Laureys’s new study claims that patients classed as in a vegetative state are often misdiagnosed.
‘Anyone who bears the stamp of “unconscious” just one time hardly ever gets rid of it again,’ he said.
The doctor, who leads the Coma Science Group and Department of Neurology at Liege University Hospital, found Mr Houben’s brain was still working by using state-of-the-art imaging.
He plans to use the case to highlight what he considers may be similar examples around the world. Continue reading
Robert Schindler,Sr., the father of Terri Schiavo has died. National Right to Life has released this letter:
“NATIONAL RIGHT TO LIFE MOURNS THE LOSS OF ROBERT SCHINDLER, SR.
WASHINGTON – The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the nation’s largest pro-life group, today joined with pro-lifers nationwide in mourning the passing of our dear friend Robert Schindler, Sr., the father of Terri Schindler Schiavo. Mr. Schindler died this morning in St. Petersburg, Florida.
“Bob Schindler was an extraordinary father, husband and friend,” said Wanda Franz, Ph.D., National Right to Life President. “His death is a profound loss for all of us in the pro-life movement. Today, our thoughts and prayers are with his loving wife, Mary and their children, Bobby and Suzanne.”
Despite facing legal setbacks at virtually every turn, the Schindlers, with their children at their side, fought unceasingly to defend the right of their daughter, Terri Schindler Schiavo, to receive food and fluids. Their brave struggle ended on March 31, 2005, when Terri died from a court-ordered withdrawal of nutrition and hydration.
Following Terri’s death, the family began advocating for other medically dependent and disabled patients facing similar circumstances through the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation.
In 2007, the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund honored the Schindler family with the Proudly Pro-Life Award for their dedication and public witness to the cause of life.
“In life, Bob, and his wife Mary, never sought the spotlight. They only wished to care for their beloved daughter, Terri. Through their selfless dedication to Terri, they showed the nation and the world what it means when someone says they are ‘pro-life’,” added David N. O’Steen, Ph.D., National Right to Life Executive Director.
The National Right to Life Committee, the nation’s largest pro-life group is a federation of affiliates in all 50 states and 3,000 local chapters nationwide. National Right to Life works through legislation and education to protect those threatened by abortion, infanticide, euthanasia and assisted suicide.”
Terri Schiavo of course was judicially murdered by the State of Florida in 2005 at the behest of her “loving husband”, Michael Schiavo. A few comments about that judicial travesty: Continue reading