A Wake-up Call

That’s what CNN’s Campbell Brown said to wrap up an interview with a
doctor about the man who returned from what was considered to be a
23-year coma. The irony is rich.

Thanks to Bobby Schindler, the brother of Terri Schiavo, for passing along the story, hours before I heard it on CNN, of the return of Rom Houben.

A car crash victim has spoken of the horror he endured
for 23 years after he was misdiagnosed as being in a coma when he was
conscious the whole time.

That’s the key message, right there.

Rom Houben, trapped in his paralysed body after a car
crash, described his real-life nightmare as he screamed to doctors that
he could hear them - but could make no sound.

‘I screamed, but there was nothing to hear,’ said Mr Houben, now 46, who doctors thought was in a persistent vegatative state.

He is articulate in describing the exquisite pain of his condition.

Mr Houben said: ‘All that time I just literally dreamed
of a better life. Frustration is too small a word to describe what I

His case has only just been revealed in a scientific paper released
by the man who ’saved’ him, top neurological expert Dr Steven Laureys.

‘Medical advances caught up with him,’ said Dr Laureys, who believes
there may be many similar cases of false comas around the world.

And that’s the takeaway, difficult as it is to take our gaze away
from the remarkable Mr. Houben. At a time when health care changes may
necessitate reductions in spending, of time and resources, for patients
considered to be ‘hopeless cases’, Mr. Houben’s ‘miracle’ proves the
human spirit can completely elude neat scientific detection and

Doctors in Zolder, Belgium, used the internationally
accepted Glasgow Coma Scale to assess his eye, verbal and motor
responses. But each time he was graded incorrectly.

Only a re-evaluation of his case at the University of Liege
discovered that he had lost control of his body but was still fully
aware of what was happening.

He is never likely to leave hospital, but as well as his computer he
now has a special device above his bed which lets him read books while
lying down.

Mr Houben said: ‘I shall never forget the day when they discovered what was truly wrong with me - it was my second birth.

‘I want to read, talk with my friends via the computer and enjoy my life now that people know I am not dead.’

May that knowledge help medical professionals better appreciate the depths of human dignity and the will to live.

As Bobby Schindler spends much time trying to tell anyone willing to listen, it’s not compassionate to say ’let them go’…when they’re not going anywhere.


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