(NaturalNews) Imagine being stuck in your bed, conscious but unable to speak or move, for a quarter of your life, while everyone around you thought you were just a comatose "vegetable." This is what happened to 50-year-old Rom Houben of Belgium, who back in 2006, and later reported in 2009, was discovered to have actually been fully conscious, just paralyzed, for all these years, following a near-fatal car accident he suffered back in 1983.
It is one of the most nightmarish thoughts imaginable, being stuck in a lifeless body but unable to communicate with anyone for a full 23 straight years. But somehow, Houben was able to survive this unimaginable experience that shatters much of what the medical system thought it knew about brain damage and being unconscious. The entire coma diagnosis process as we currently know it, in fact, is now in question, as many more allegedly comatose individuals out there could actually be fully conscious and aware of their surroundings.
According to the U.K.'s Guardian, Houben has essentially been a prisoner in his own body since the early 1980s, unable to communicate with nurses, family and others who continually tried to communicate with him. It was not until 2006 when a new state-of-the-art PET scanning system came onto the scene that Houben's caretakers came to realize the error of their assumptions -- Houben had all along been able to hear and understand life, as it was taking place around his otherwise lifeless body.
"I screamed, but there was nothing to hear," said Houben via a special keyboard that was made for him following the discovery. "[I] traveled with my thoughts into the past, or into another existence altogether. I was only my consciousness and nothing else," added the former engineering student, who speaks four different languages, about how he coped with his vegetative life.
Recalling the day his caretakers first discovered that he had been fully conscious all those years, Houben says it felt like a "second birth," as it quite obviously changed the course of his entire existence in a major way. All the anger, powerlessness and despair that Houben felt all those years, which he says he soothed away through meditation and other desperate means, was gone in an instant.
Nearly half of all individuals currently diagnosed as comatose could be awake just like Houben, say experts
Not long after, the man credited with discovering the truth about Houben's condition, neurologist Steven Laureys, conducted a follow-up study that aimed to find out how prevalent false coma diagnoses truly are. Much to his surprise, this expert from the University of Liege found that as many as 40 percent of all people currently diagnosed as being in a comatose or otherwise vegetative state are more than likely fully conscious but unable to communicate, just like Houben was.
Comatose patients are misdiagnosed "on a disturbingly regular basis," Laureys is quoted as saying to Germany's Der Spiegel news source. "Once someone is labeled as being without consciousness, it is very hard to get rid of that," he added, noting that, of the 44 patients he examined that were believed to be in a vegetative state, only 26 of them actually were.
Laureys incredible findings, which were published in the peer-reviewed journal BMC Neurology, are a major game-changer with regards to how the medical profession makes coma diagnoses. It also raises new questions as to the morality of "pulling the plug" on those diagnosed as being hopelessly vegetative, as many of them, just like Houben, could be anything but.