A man who received a "pacemaker for the brain" has partially recovered from a minimally conscious state. After six years of almost complete inability to communicate or even swallow, the unnamed 38-year-old can eat without the help of a feeding tube and follow a conversationt, scientists have reported in the journal Nature. "He has regained his personhood, his personal agency," said Dr. Joseph J. Fins, chief of medical ethics at Cornell University, and a co-author of the study. The patient has amnesia and cannot yet fully represent his interests, Dr. Fins added, "but now he’s got interests to represent."
The man sustained severe brain injuries after being mugged and kicked in the head in 1999. At one stage his mother signed a "do not resuscitate" order. But after the pacemaker was installed, she says, "I cry every time I see my son, but now it’s tears of joy."
The deep brain stimulator which transformed the man’s life has already been approved for treating Parkinson’s disease. However scientists caution that they do not know how many other patients could benefit. "We really see this as a first step, but it should open doors that have not been open before for patients like this," said Dr Giacino.
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