Friday, May 06, 2005

Awakenings - all too short - 'Miracle' firefighter received experimental drug treatment - May 5, 2005

Oliver Sacks wrote once of a miracle treatment for a group of persons with a post-encephalitis severe parkinsonian-like syndrome. The medications, normally used to treat parkinsonism, had a truly miraculous effect. Alas, it was transient. It reminds me of the odd scene in the greatly underestimated movie AI, where the child android has his mother restored -- but only for a day [1].

Whatever happened to this fireman, it feels like it's connected to Sack's tale. I hope this will get a medical article.
... Certain medications had shown promise in Dr. Jamil Ahmed's more recently brain-damaged patients, drugs normally used to treat Parkinson's disease, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression. He gave them to Herbert.

Three months later, on Saturday, something clicked in Herbert's brain. He started talking. Not only talking, his doctor said, but talking sensibly. Even making people laugh.

For the next 14 to 16 hours, until he fell into a 30-hour sleep early Sunday morning, Herbert chatted with his wife, Linda, his four sons and other family and friends, catching up on what he'd missed...

... Since that breakthrough, Herbert, who will turn 44 Saturday, has had infrequent moments of clarity but has not matched Saturday's progress, his wife said.

... There have been a few other widely publicized examples of brain-damaged patients showing sudden improvement after a number of years, at least temporarily, but experts say they are so rare they don't have much to study.

In 2003, an Arkansas man, Terry Wallis, returned to consciousness 19 years after he was injured in a car accident, stunning his mother by saying "Mom" and then asking for a Pepsi. His brain function has remained limited, his family said months later.

Tennessee police officer Gary Dockery, whose brain was damaged in a 1988 shooting, began speaking to his family one day in 1996, telling jokes and recounting annual winter camping trips. But after 18 hours, he never repeated the unbridled conversation of that day, though he remained more alert than he had been. He died the following year of a blood clot on his lung.
I remember the latter two stories and I'd wondered how they turned out. I've read recently of a growing suspicion among researchers that many comatose individuals actually have a sort of wareness of their surroundings, a variety of the locked-in syndrome seen with brainstem stroke. (Note: I studiously avoided knowing much about the Schiavo case, just as I know very little about Michael Jackson and OJ Simpson, but I gather she did not fit into this clinical category.)

[1] I just noted that AI has 1216 Amazon reviews, ranging from 5 stars to 1 star with few in between. Any movie that can rouse such passions, years after its release, is a great movie.

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