April 27, 2019 | David F. Coppedge

Remarkable Resuscitations

Doctors and families should not be too quick to unplug a comatose person. Look what can happen.

Rip Van Winkless Awakens After Almost 3 Decades

A woman in the United Arab Emirates came out of a 27-year coma, reports Fox News. Her son kept faith that she would some day recover her awareness from an accident that left her unconscious in 1991. Medical Xpress calls this kind of resuscitation “very rare.”

“When she saw the crash coming she hugged me to protect me from the blow,” said her son, Omar Webair, 32, who walked away from the crash unharmed.

The mother would not see her son again for 27 years.

“I never gave up on her because I always had a feeling that one day she will wake up,” he said.

And her son? He grew devoted to his mother, walking to her hospital room and sitting with her for hours at a time. Year after year.

“I believe that, because of my support for her, God saved me from bigger troubles,” he told the National.

Munira Omar was not in a full coma or persistent vegetative state, but what’s called a state of “minimal consciousness” that allowed her to respond to some stimuli, but not all. She did not wake up suddenly, but slowly regained consciousness after a “holistic” treatment involving muscle exercise, physiotherapy and exposure to all kinds of stimuli. Soon after she regained awareness, she “was calling the names of family members and reciting prayers,” her son said. Medical Xpress says the news “startled the world.”

Is Somebody in There?

Nature writes about new techniques to help those locked inside their heads to be able to communicate. Under the headline, “Brain signals translated into speech using artificial intelligence,” Giorgia Guglielmi writes, “Technology could one day be used to help people who can’t talk to communicate.” The article implies that people are cognizant even when they cannot talk, and that speech is a highly efficient way for people to express themselves:

Many people who have lost the ability to speak communicate using technology that requires them to make tiny movements to control a cursor that selects letters or words on a screen. UK physicist Stephen Hawking, who had motor-neuron disease, was one famous example. He used a speech-generating device activated by a muscle in his cheek, says study leader Edward Chang, a neurosurgeon at the University of California, San Francisco.

Because people who use such devices must type out words letter by letter, these devices can be very slow, producing up to ten words per minute, Chang says. Natural spoken speech averages 150 words per minute. “It’s the efficiency of the vocal tract that allows us to do that,” he says. And so Chang and his team decided to model the vocal system when constructing their decoder.

Initial experiments show promise for accessing the minds behind the disabilities, even though there is a lot of work to do to make the machine-generated sounds more intelligible. A more far-off goal is to turn their inner thoughts into machine-generated speech.

We dare not trifle with human beings. Inability to communicate does not necessarily mean a person is “brain dead.” Situations involving comas can be complex and painful, but these stories should give families pause about disconnecting life support too soon. Let us hope that technology will continue to advance, giving patients ways to express their inner thoughts and feelings.

 

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