The human body needs time to heal after a traumatic event.
Especially when a brain injury is involved. Family members are often pressured to “pull the plug” or withhold treatment from a loved one who has suffered such an event, and end their life. But the recovery of many people, some even after years in a seemingly unconscious or semi-conscious state, is causing medical professionals and ethicists to question the diagnosis of “persistent vegetative state.”
Here are a few of their stories:
Jesse Ramirez, 36
Awakened after three weeks
Jesse Ramirez fell out of a moving car, while he was having an argument with his wife on May 30, 2007. Ramirez suffered a broken neck and a massive brain injury that left him in a “minimally conscious” state. After only nine days, doctors advised his wife that he would not recover and she made the decision to have his feeding and water tubes removed. Ramirez’s parents went to court and won the right to resume nutrition and hydration for their son, who had been deprived of both for five days, on his wife’s order. Within two weeks of having his food and water restored, Jesse Ramirez regained consciousness.
(Sources: ABC News, 6/28/07, USA Today, 6/26/07; LifeSiteNews.com, 6/28/07)
Devon Rivers, age 11
Awakened after 22 months
Devon Hill collapsed during a physical education class at school in 2004. Stricken with a mysterious illness, he fell into a coma and was unable to breathe on his own. Though he was tested from everything from West Nile Virus to lead poisoning, Devon’s doctors were baffled. Everyone who examined him said that he was in a “persistent vegetative state.” But Devon’s mother, Carla, did not give up on him. He was moved to a pediatric care nursing home, where he received physical therapy to prevent atrophy in his joints. His mother visited him and continued to speak to him. The first sign of his recovery is that he started to breathe on his own. And soon after, he began to recover his motor skills.
(Sources: Associated Press, 10/8/06; LifeSiteNews.com, 10/10/06)
Donald Herbert, Age 44
Awakened after 10 years
Firefighter Donald Herbert was knocked unconscious by debris which fell on him when he entered a burning building just days
after Christmas in 1995. Doctors were not optimistic for a recovery, since Herbert was deprived of oxygen for several minutes after the accident. For years, during his semi-conscious state, he was able to give “yes” and “no” answers periodically and did not appear to recognize them. On April 30, 2005, Herbert awakened suddenly and said he wanted to speak to his wife and his family. Within days, he was reconnecting with family and friends. Sadly, Herbert passed away a year later, after contracting pneumonia.
(Sources: New York Times, 5/4/05; WGRZ-TV, 2/21/06)
Sara Scantlin, age 18
Awakened after 20 years
When she was crossing the street in September of 1984, Sara Scantlin was hit by a drunk driver, who then left the scene. She suffered a massive brain injury and was unable to breathe on her own. For years, her parents Jim and Betsy Scantlin would try different things, like putting up pictures of people she knew, family pets and objects like a glass of water. When they would ask her if she were thirsty, her eyes would lock on the picture of the glass of water. Despite her unconscious state for 20 years, Sara was apparently aware of what was going on around her. After she regained consciousness, according to CBS News, when her father asked her, “Sarah, what’s 9/11?” She responded, “Bad… fire… airplanes… building… hurt people.” Though she was still recovering her speech, Sara was able to sing her favorite song, “Summer Lovin’” during an appearance on CBS’s Early Show.
(Sources: CNN 2/11/05; CBS News, 8/4/05)
Terry Wallace, 39
Big Flat, Arkansas
Awakened after 19 years
Mechanic Terry Wallace suffered a traumatic brain injury at age 20, when the pickup truck he was riding in crashed through a safety rail and plummeted off a bluff in Arkansas, killing his friend. Wallace was not able to communicate for 19 years, except for occasional grunts and nods. Though doctors told his family he would probably never recover, he appeared to be able to track objects with his eyes. His parents brought him home every other week and kept talking to him. In June 2003, when his mother Angilee was visiting him at the nursing home 26 miles from their home, he suddenly said, “Mom.” The next day he was able to ask for his favorite beverage, “Pepsi.” Three years later, he was still unable to walk and needed help eating, but his speech was much improved. Terry’s father, Jerry Wallis told MSNBC, “He now seems almost exactly like his old self. And he very often tells us how glad he is to be alive.”
(Sources: CNN, 7/8/03; MSNBC, 7/3/06)
Kate Adamson, age 33
Awakened after 50 days
Kate Adamson suffered a stroke at age 33 in 1995 and was diagnosed as being in a “persistent vegetative state.” Instead, this mother of two was aware of everything going on around her, but unable to move or communicate. Her feeding tube was removed for eight days, until her husband, Steven, an attorney was able to intervene and have it restored. Though she could not communicate, she remembers hearing Steven on the phone, fighting with their insurance company, insisting that she would make progress, despite the hopeless prognoses. Also during that time, she had abdominal surgery for a bowel obstruction – the doctors gave her inadequate anesthesia for the surgery, because they believed she was unconscious and would not feel anything. Ten years later, Kate was a professional motivational speaker and author, who has appeared on many shows including Larry King Live, Good Morning America and The O’Reilly Factor.
(Sources: The Weekly Standard, 11/12/03; LifeSiteNews.com, 3/14/05; Stroke Smart Magazine, May/June 2006)