Scientists, via brain scanning, communicated with a man in coma who told them he was not in pain.
Hoax or Fact:
The message states that a man in coma for more than a decade has communicated with scientists via brain scanning and told them that he was not in pain. The story is a fact, but the man is not in coma exactly, but in a less serious medical condition called vegetative state.
Coma is a state where a person lacks both consciousness and awareness, unable to feel, speak, hear, or move, while people in vegetative state can open their eyelids occasionally, but completely lack awareness. Some patients come out of their coma gradually and progress to the vegetative state and can sustain for decades. The incidence of coma and vegetative states depend on the cause, location, severity and extent of the neurological damage in the patient. The video on right explains the brain activity of patients in vegetative state and complete brain dead cases. There will be no brain activity in brain dead cases, but there will be some brain activity in vegetative cases, somewhat similar to what happens in a healthy brain. Note that a person in vegetative state will not be on a respirator as in the case of a brain dead person. Doctors also believe that the brain activity of vegetative person is similar to that of a healthy person under Anaesthesia.
The message refers to a BBC report in Nov 2012 that talks about Scott Routley, 39, a Canadian man who went through a severe brain injury in a car accident before 12 years. Since his physical assessments did not shown any sign of awareness, or ability to communicate, doctors believed that he was in a vegetative state for more than a decade. But recently, Prof Adrian Owen, a British neuro-scientist, along with his team at the Brain and Mind Institute, University of Western Ontario were surprised at the fact that Mr Scott Routley was not clearly vegetative. He was able to show that he has a conscious, thinking mind. When Routley was asked various questions, and his brain activity was scanned using an fMRI machine, the doctors learnt from the reports that the patient is communicating with them. When asked if he is going through any kind of pain, Routley through his brain activity answered no. Referring to this groundbreaking moment, Prof Owen said:
"Scott has been able to show he has a conscious, thinking mind. We have scanned him several times and his pattern of brain activity shows he is clearly choosing to answer our questions. We believe he knows who and where he is."
The parents of Scott Routley always thought that he was conscious and could communicate with them at times, by lifting his thumb or by moving his eyes. However, this was never accepted by the medical staff who thought that it was only their wishful thinking. The video on right shows and explains the testing process and brain activity of Scott Routley as he communicated with the doctors.
Doctors said that this is the first time a severely brain-injured and uncommunicative patient has been able to respond to questions clinically relevant to his care. Note that the observational assessments of Mr Routley after he responded to these tests still suggested that he is vegetative. Prof Bryan Young, Mr Routley's neurologist at University Hospital, London, who has been treating him for a decade said that the scan results overturned all the behavioural assessments made over the years, and the discovery means that medical textbooks need to be rewritten.
It was also found that another similar patient from Canada, Steven Graham, was able to demonstrate through his brain activity that he had laid down new memories after his brain injury. When asked whether his sister has a daughter, Graham answered yes. His niece was born after his brain injury in a car accident.
Doctors believe that this is an important discovery, which will not only give a voice to the brain injured people, but will also be helpful in keeping them happy and entertained, thereby improving their health significantly.