A Belgian man who was misdiagnosed as being in a coma for 23 years was fully conscious the whole time, according to a study released by a leading neurologist.
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Rom Houben was left completely paralysed after a car crash in 1983 and doctors believed that he was in a persistent vegetative state.
The fact that he was conscious was only discovered three years ago after he was examined by Dr Steven Laureys using state of the art equipment.
With the help of a therapist Mr Houben is now able to communicate with people through a computer.
Mr Houben said: “I shall never forget the day when they discovered what was truly wrong with me – it was my second birth.”
His mother said: “My husband and I always knew instinctively that he was there as a human being.
“But the Doctors were always doubtful and said he was a vegetable.”
She added: “If I asked him to move his eyes in a certain direction he did so. The doctors weren’t impressed and they said it was a nervous tic or a coincidence.”
Doctors in Zolder, Belgium, repeatedly used the internationally recognised Glasgow Coma Scale to monitor Mr Houben’s condition, but failed to spot signs that his brain was still functioning.
The scale is based on assessment of eyes, verbal and motor responses.
Dr Laureys leads the Department of Neurology at Liege University Hospital.
His new study revealed that coma patients are falsely diagnosed “on a disturbingly regular basis.”
This is not the first time that coma patients have surprised doctors.
Twenty years ago, an 86-year-old woman from New York regained consciousness after being in a coma for one year.
Days earlier, a judge had granted her family’s request for the removal of her feeding tube.
While in 1996 Mark Newton fell into a coma after a diving accident.
Doctors believed that Mr Newton was brain dead and recommended turning off his life support.
His mother refused and Mr Newton woke up after 6 months – he was fully aware of what had been happening around him but was unable to communicate.