May 29, 2024

Fireman’s recovery after 10 years puzzles doctors

In a case which was reported around the world in the wake of the debate over Terri Schiavo, a fireman who was severely brain-damaged 10 years ago has recovered consciousness and is chatting with his family. Donald Herbert, now 43, from upstate New York, was deprived of oxygen for several minutes in a house fire in 1995. When he was rescued he was blind, barely able to speak and unable to recognise family and friends. Suddenly, last week, he began to talk. Apparently he thought he had only been away for three months.

Doctors were stunned by Mr Herbert’s dramatic improvement and are searching for an explanation. His doctor said that three months ago he added antidepressants and a medication used for Parkinson’s disease to a standard regimen of neurostimulants. Family members also credit the countless hours his parents had spent with their son since the accident.

Doctors disagree about whether he had been a in persistent vegetative state or merely in a state of minimal consciousness. However, they agree that brain-injured patients who have made such a dramatic improvement after so many years are very few. “There hasn’t ever been one who’s woken up this far out,” said Dr. James Czyrny, clinical director of rehabilitation medicine at Erie County Medical Center.