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Man trapped in 12-year vegetative state was aware all along

Vegetative state

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(NaturalNews) If ever there was an answer about whether or not those in a vegetative state possess awareness, it's found in the story of Martin Pistorius. He fell into a coma likely brought on by cryptococcal meningitis in the 1980s. However, after 12 years in a vegetative state, Pistorius has shocked not only his family -- but the world -- by recently coming out of his coma, and by also informing them of something that's often wondered by people, but not necessarily confirmed: He was aware of his surroundings the majority of the time.(1)

His story provides hope while also offering insight as to whether or not those in a coma are capable of comprehending the environment around them. Pistorius, who is now 39, says that about two years into his comatose state, he started waking up. However, he was unable to convey this through voice and expression. Although he says he was "aware of everything, just like any normal person," he was sadly thrust into a world that denied the possibility of this, because of his condition. As such, he sadly recalls the time his own mother, fueled with frustration over her son's health, said to him that she wished he'd die. All is forgiven though. "As time passed," he said, "I gradually learned to understand my mother's desperation. Every time she looked at me, she could see only a cruel parody of the once-healthy child she had loved so much."(1)

His waking up also shows that perhaps keeping a patient in a stimulating, thought-provoking environment can benefit their mental health.

For example, Pistorius recalls many of hospital staff members keeping nothing but the purple "I love you, you love me" singing dinosaur on the television in his room. He craved to learn more about the world around him, but, convinced that he was unaware, nurses left him with endless repeats of the popular childhood TV program. "I cannot even express to you how much I hated Barney," he said.(1)

Today, he is now married and has written a book appropriately titled Ghost Boy. A description of the book says, "Through Martin's story we get a glimpse what it is like to be unable to communicate yet feeling and understanding everything. Martin's emergence from his darkness enables us to celebrate the human spirit and is a wake-up call to cherish our own lives."(1,2)

Alternative methods of communication important for those in coma, brain-injured

Additionally, his story also raises awareness about Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). AAC is likened to what a wheelchair is to walking; they are alternative ways to communicate with those needing verbal assistance and may include the use of gestures, communication books and various technological communication devices.(3)

One similar technology involves that of brain imaging and is similar to what theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking uses to communicate. While not in a coma, Hawking is confined to a wheelchair and "speaks" using technology and blinking his eyes at appropriate times.

"What we've been able to do in the last few years is develop brain imaging methods," using MRI and EEGs, said Dr. Damian Cruse, who was a guest speaker at a New Beginnings Brain Injury Association of Chatham-Kent event in Ontario, Canada. He explains that such tools are being closely looked at as ways to help those trapped in a coma "tell" family members that their words and other sounds can indeed be heard.(4)

Studies: Those in vegetative state may have "conscious awareness"

Several studies have indicated that awareness in comatose individuals does indeed exist.

For example, one study conducted by British and Canadian authors found that some of the 16 patients thought to be unconscious and deemed physically unresponsive were actually able to generate proper EEG responses to a couple of specific commands.(5)

This study was published in the journal The Lancet. Titled "Bedside detection of awareness in the vegetative state: a cohort study," it notes, "We aimed to assess bedside detection of awareness with an electroencephalography (EEG) technique in patients in the vegetative state."

The study says:

Despite rigorous clinical assessment, many patients in the vegetative state are misdiagnosed. The EEG method that we developed is cheap, portable, widely available, and objective. It could allow the widespread use of this bedside technique for the rediagnosis of patients who behaviourally seem to be entirely vegetative, but who might have residual cognitive function and conscious awareness.(6)


(1) http://www.npr.org

(2) http://martinpistorius.com

(3) http://martinpistorius.com

(4) http://www.traumaticbraininjury.net

(5) http://theconversation.com

(6) http://www.thelancet.com

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