A man wrongly diagnosed as being in a vegetative state, can now finally communicate with doctors and his family...
A man who emerged from what doctors thought was a vegetative state says he was fully conscious for 23 years but could not respond because he was paralyzed.
Rom Houben, 46, was left in coma after being severely injured in a car accident back in 1983. Belgian doctors who treated him early on used the widely accepted Glasgow coma and diagnosed that Rom had gone from a coma into a vegetative condition.
However, Houben was not in a vegetative state, and would spend the next two decades trying to alert those around him.
Coma is a state of unconsciousness in which the eyes are closed and the patient remains ‘asleep’. A vegetative state is a condition in which the eyes are open and can move, and the patient has periods of sleep and periods of wakefulness, but remains unconscious and unaware of their surroundings.
His family continued to believe their son was conscious and sought further medical advice. After several unsuccessful trips to America, they finally stumbled upon the help of Professor Steven Laureys, a member of the Belgium’s Coma Science Group.
Laureys realized that the diagnosis was wrong and taught Houben how to communicate by slightly moving his foot to push a computer device. Then came the spelling of words using the slightest movements of his fingers.
Using the new computer device and special keyboard triggered by the slightest touch, Houben told reporters:
“I am called Rom. I am not dead. The nurses came, they patted me, they sometimes took my hand, and I heard them say “no hope.” I meditated, I dreamed my life away it was all I could do. I don’t want to blame anyone it wouldn’t do any good. But I owe my life to my family. Everyone else gave up.
I studied what happened around me as if it were a tiny piece of world drama, the bizarre peculiarities of the other patients in the common room, the entry of the doctors into my room, the gossip of the nurses who were not embarrassed to speak about their boyfriends in front of “the extinct one.” That made me an expert on relationships.”
As unfortunate as the case may be, a new report suggests that this type of misdiagnosis might not be that uncommon. Houben’s case only came to light after Laureys published a study in the journal BMC Neurology this year showing that approx four out of ten patients with consciousness disorders are wrongly diagnosed as being a vegetative state.
Dr. Audrey Vanhaudenhuyse, who is on Laureys team said:
“You have to imagine yourself lying in bed wanting to speak and move but unable to do so while in your head you are OK…
“It was extremely difficult for him and he showed a lot of anger, which is normal since he was very frustrated,” she said.
Houben has started writing a book on his experiences.
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