Science

My aunt passed away from cancer a few years ago, and it was a very painful time for my family.

When she finally moved on, she was surrounded by her loving siblings.

Just before she died, she seemed to tightly squeeze their hands.

My family took this as her way of saying “Goodbye,” to them, even though she could not speak.

It sounds a bit romantic and hopeful, but there are cases where people who seem unresponsive reach out and surprise even their doctors.

Terry Wallis is one of the world’s most famous coma patients.

Terry Wallis coma
AP

Not just for the length of his deep sleep – he spent 19 years in what doctors call a “persistent vegetative state” after a traffic accident damaged his brain in 1984 – but also for his miraculous recovery.

It’s not clear exactly how aware Wallis was during his lengthy coma.

He would sometimes respond to lights, motion and stimulation, and his family says Wallis would even “lighten up” when friends visited him.

But Wallis could not move or speak – until he finally did one day, seemingly for no reason, and surprised everyone.

Terry Wallis coma
Wallis and his mother, Angilee.Time

Wallis’s nurse was joking around with him in 2004, pointing to his mother and asking if he recognized her.

“Mom,” he said, shocking them both.

Over the weekend Wallis kept talking – asking for milk and Pepsi – and he has been steadily improving ever since.

And doctors say his unique case could help other patients recover from comas and head injuries.

After his first few months in the hospital, Wallis seemed to improve to a “minimally conscious state,” becoming aware but unresponsive.

But for the next 19 years he did not speak or move – until suddenly he seemed to get better.

Terry Wallis coma
Wallis in 2014Arkansas Life

Doctors think that during that time, Wallis’s brain was “rewiring” itself, creating new connections to replace his damaged ones.

His mother, Angilee, probably deserves some of the credit for her son’s recovery.

While doctors told her Wallis would never recover, Angilee never stopped visiting her son twice a week, speaking to him and playing country music for him.

She even took Wallis home for weekends and holidays, to spend time with his family.

While Wallis’s family says the accident hasn’t changed his personality very much, his memory was definitely affected.

Terry Wallis coma
Wallis’s daughter Amber was a newborn when he entered his coma but 19 when he woke up.AP

After waking up, he insisted that Ronald Reagan was still the president, and could clearly remember doing childhood chores.

But his parents also say he had no memory of his wife and newborn child – who was six months old during the car accident but 19 when she finally spoke with her father.

Wallis still struggles with memory problems to this day.

But he’s not the only patient who miraculously woke up from a coma.

Like Wallis, Sarah Scantlin was injured by a hit and run driver in 1985, and spent the next two decades in a coma.

Scantlin’s family trained her to blink once for “yes” and twice for “no,” but her answers were so sluggish they couldn’t be sure she understood.

Sarah Scantlin coma
The Hutchinson News

Then, out of the blue just like in Wallis’s case, they received a call from Scantlin’s care home.

“Hi mom,” Scantlin said.

“Sarah is that you?” her mother Betsy asked.

“Yes.”

“How are you doing?”

“Fine.”

“Do you need anything?” her mother asked.

“More makeup.”

Unlike Wallis, Scantlin was definitely alert and aware during her coma.

She revealed to her family that she had learned about the outside world by watching soap operas in her room.

Sarah Scantlin coma
The Hutchinson News

Despite “waking up” in 2005, Scantlin knew roughly what 9/11 was, and recognized that CDs played music.

Scantlin even guessed that she was just 22 years old instead of 38, imagining it was still the 1980s.

Could you imagine being in a coma for decades? Do you know anyone who woke up from one?

[H/T: Time, New York Times, Arkansas Life]

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