In what can only be described as a harrowing instance of misdiagnosis, a Belgian man presumed comatose for 23 years after a near-fatal car crash was actually conscious and paralyzed the entire time. Rom Houben, whose real state was discovered three years ago but only now made public, could be one of many falsely diagnosed coma cases, raising serious questions about those diagnosed as "vegetative" and, even more frighteningly, the process by which vegetative people are removed from life support.
Houben, now in a facility in Brussels and communicating via a computer controlled by his minimally functioning right hand, came around after his 1983 car accident. But while he could hear every word his doctors spoke, he could not speak to them, nor could he move his body to communicate with them in any way. For years researchers and doctors tried to coax a response from Houben, who all along was trapped within his own body, living a life of frustration with his inability to interact.
"I screamed, but there was nothing to hear," he told the Guardian via his computer.
For over two decades Houben remained in what doctors thought was an unconscious state, though he was fully conscious of the world going by around him. It wasn't until three years ago when doctors wanted to try a new state-of-the-art PET scanning system on Houben that they made a startling discovery: the "comatose" man's brain was functioning almost normally.
For Houben, the discovery of his consciousness by the outside world has been like a "second birth," to put it in his own words. But for science, while the news of Houben's "discovery" is heartening, it will likely rehash the debate over when, if ever, a patient who by all indications of modern science is vegetative should be terminated.
Belgian neurologist Steven Laureys has published a paper on Houben's ordeal suggesting that his case is not isolated. According to his study, as many as 40 percent of cases diagnosed as vegetative may indeed possess enough consciousness to not only communicate, but to actually make considerable progress with the right treatment. Of 44 "vegetative" patients Laureys analyzed, 18 ended up responding to communication.
The idea of losing the ability to communicate with the outside world is terrifying enough, but to then be misdiagnosed and forgotten -- or deemed a lost cause and slotted for termination -- all while possessing fully functioning mental capacities is downright unthinkable. The question "how many times have we been wrong?" is one the medical community is likely loath to ask, but if Houben's case is any indication, it's one that needs to be addressed. If Laureys analysis is to be believed, there should be many more Houben's out there screaming in silence.
That there is fucking scary as shit! Ide of lost my mind after a week, the stress would of killed me!
This reminds me of those in surgeries that were put under anesthesia, but were both paralyzed and fully conscious.
This is too painful to be in bed for about 23 yrs of his life and never embraces the life he should have.
I felt the sorrow that he feel and can't imagine every single day that he got in his life.
This may be opening a moral can of worms, but wouldn't you prefer to be dead if you were trapped inside a completely imbobile body for the rest of your life?
I prefer quality of life over life at all cost. And I'm speaking from first hand experience after seeing a relative kept comfortable on morphine until she died
I have often said that if I could LIVE to 100, I would be happy.
If I had to SURVIVE, I would not.
If my family had to go through such heartache, I would not be able to bear it.
While I am happy for this man if he is happy to have survived, I would not choose to.
I have had a good, full life.
Pull the plug. Donate my organs to a young person who still has a life to live.
I don't fear death. It's the dying that terrifies me.
The way this article was rewritten does not give the original article justices. He was completely paralized meaning he could not talk, could not blink, nothing. normally patients can at least blink if there brain is still working, this guy was an acception. The only reason he can do anything now is because of the advances in medicine to repair is nervous system. It is not a case of Doctor error or bad medicine.
It would appear that the 'misdiagnosis' was caused by not having any method of communication until recent technology advances. Not a case of doctors missing anything.
It's a sad story, and maybe there are quite a few others in the same condition. Maybe now these people can be helped. This is a cause for celebration, not blame.
wasn't there a movie kind of like this and the person actually underwent surgery all while being able to feel everything?
Careful here, the way that guy is communicating is by assisted communication, in wich someone else moves the hand of the impaired in a computer screen. There is no other proof of the mental activity of this guy and every time that kind of communication has been put to test, the results always match the helper vision and not the patient (i.e. showing different photos to both of them the "patient" typed the answer for the helper and not his own)
I used to take care of a man that was in a "vegetative" state. Nobody believed he could hear what everyone was saying nor know what was going on around him.
I always treated him as if he could hear me, and later on I found out he could hear and understand me. I would ask him questions and I would tell him to blink twice for yes and don't blink for no, and that is how I could get him to tell me if he was comfortable or cold. It's terrible and I wish they could do more research on this type of thing...
I couldn't imagine...
This is some freaky stuff. Sounds like a horrible way to live. I think it is horrible that I'm stuck in a cube all day. Being stuck in a bed for 23 years sounds like hell.
Terri Schiavo. Her parents were prevented by the evil progressive people from stopping removal of water and food feed-tubes. She died of thirst and hunger.
PonC, you should be careful. His communication is computer-assisted, not trained human assisted.
Terry Schiavo was brain scanned and a complete potato, sorry sszorin. I know it doesn't fit into your view of educated people, as crazy, communistic, Godless fiends, but it's the truth. The only real doctor willing to say she wasn't a carrot was a politician who saw video of her, and felt that was enough to make a diagnosis, since it happened to fit his goal of whipping up the religious, very uneducated masses, for political gain. Wow, glad he hasn't practiced medicine in 20 years, lol.
To anyone reading this in 2013: this is an old article (2009), and the claims have been debunked since then.
PonC was actually right all along: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rom_Houben
Re: Terry Schiavo - it always amazes me that conservative Christians will do their best to go against gods will and force someone to stay unnaturally alive when they could be going to heaven. What travesty. I feel that though they pretend to have faith, if they are so afraid of a loved one dying they in reality have little to no faith that their will be a better place for them afterwards.
@nicholasjh1 So many things have two or more sides to them. Dying unsaved is a fate FAR worse than death from the standpoint of fundamental Christian theology. For many people, living trapped in an incommunicado state of consciousness may be as well. To my mind, fMRI (or some similar sorts of technology) might be adapted to grant such people at least a temporary semblance of communication so that they could express their own preferences. This requires MUCH more research. Heroic efforts should ALWAYS be made to grant the persistently vegetative any means to communicate--even a simple binary tool (a provable yes / no device) would have allowed Terry to make these decisions for herself.
Am I the only one who had this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EzgGTTtR0kc going the head while reading the article?
mobarobber - I totally had that song in my head right from the beginning!