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Vegetative State Man 'Talks' By Brain Scan 202

c0lo writes "'Severely brain-injured Scott Routley hasn't spoken in 12 years. None of his physical assessments since then have shown any sign of awareness, or ability to communicate, thus being diagnosed as vegetative (vegetative patients emerge from a coma into a condition where they have periods awake, with their eyes open, but have no perception of themselves or the outside world).' Scott Routley was asked questions while having his brain activity scanned in an fMRI machine. British neuroscientist Prof Adrian Owen said Mr Routley was clearly not vegetative. '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.' As a consequence, medical textbooks would need to be updated to include Prof Owen's techniques, because only observational assessments (as opposed to using mind-readers) of Mr. Routley have continued to suggest he is vegetative. Functional MRI machines are expensive (up to $2 million), but it's quite possible that a portable high-end EEG machine, costing about $75,000, can be used at a patient's bedside. Phillip K. Dick's world is one step closer."
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Vegetative State Man 'Talks' By Brain Scan

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  • Kill me, please (Score:4, Informative)

    by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <> on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @09:02PM (#41987101) Homepage Journal
    I have a legal document that tells my family to pull the plug in such a case. I don't care who thinks I'm a "quitter".
  • by phantomlord ( 38815 ) <slashdot AT krwtech DOT com> on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @11:00PM (#41988021) Journal
    Back in 1998, my dad had a brain aneurysm (his second, the first was a ruptured brain aneurysm when he was a teenager that he survived without any impairment othe than an aneurysm clip on his left carotid arterty) that required a coil embolization (a new technique at the time, he was the 7th patient they had done at this hospital). After placing the coils, a clot broke free resulting in a stroke. He was recovering well and was almost fully functional, when two weeks later when he developed hydrocephalus, so they placed a ventriculostomy to relieve the pressure. Two days after that while doing a CT to check the placement of the catheter, they found an infection in his brain stem (later to also note that he had developed a left ear infection), which required a craniotomy. That resulted in him being in a coma and on a ventilator.

    The only directive he had ever given me was that he didn't want to live on a machine... That ventilator weighed heavily on me. The doctors told me that he had three days to come out of his coma or he probably never would. In an effort to try to get any type of response out of him, they would twist his nipples so hard that they bled. My sister's 14th birthday was on day 5 of the affair and I decided that there was a difference between living on a machine and recovering from a serious incident for a few days. If he didn't come out of the coma, I would pull him off the ventilator on day 7 - just in case he hung on, I didn't want him to die on my sister's birthday.
    He woke up on day 3 and ended up on the ventilator for about a week. It was that incident that finalized his brain damage, Essentially, he was a 41 year old that lost the entire top half of the right side of his brain. He wasn't moving his left side at all, he wasn't able to talk well, his short term memory was totally gone, he couldn't even sit up without falling over and could barely swallow a pureed and thickened diet. After 2.5 months of trying to get him stable enough to leave, he went to rehab where he stayed for another 2.5 months.

    After rehab, he came home to live with me... and he regained almost all of his mental faculties. He could walk with assistance, having regained most of the major muscle control in his left leg, but his primary long term deficits were the loss of his left arm and the neglect of the left side of his field of vision. The kicker? He remembers every word that was said to him while he was in a coma. The doctors can't believe that the person they see corresponds to the brain imaging that they're looking at... while they expect that amount of plasticity in a younger individual, it's extremely rare in an adult. Needless to say, he was pretty happy with his life, though he faced the usual depression and whatnot that comes with such a significant change in his lifestyle.

    Fast forward to this year... he had mastoiditis in the same ear as that infection back in 1998 and took two courses of antibiotics to get rid of it. Five months later, he went blind and started exhibiting stroke symptoms. I took him to the hospital and he was diagnosed with an abscess in his occiptal lobe (visual cortex) that penetrated the ventricles, causing ventriculits. To do imaging and a lumbar puncture, they ended up needing to sedate him and he ended up on a ventilator. Broad spectrum antibiotics (flagyl, vancomycin, and ceftriaxone) were started that night. A week in, he was, once again, no longer responding to pain.

    Once again, I was stuck with confronting my father being on a ventilator and essentially in a coma. Once again, the doctors came through telling me that the odds of survival weren't very good and that, given the previous brain damage to the other side of his brain, now that both sides were involved and with little reserve brain left, he almost certainly wouldn't recover.... but there was still a chance that, if I stopped treatment, he could survive, though it wasn't likely. I decided that my dad would want the only option that gave him any chance of an outcome worse than death, so I co
  • by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @11:59PM (#41988357) Homepage Journal

    Actually, the BBC gave a link to the NEJM article. What have they done with those 5 patients since then? []
    Willful Modulation of Brain Activity in Disorders of Consciousness
    Martin M. Monti, Ph.D., Audrey Vanhaudenhuyse, M.Sc., Martin R. Coleman, Ph.D., Melanie Boly, M.D., John D. Pickard, F.R.C.S., F.Med.Sci., Luaba Tshibanda, M.D., Adrian M. Owen, Ph.D., and Steven Laureys, M.D., Ph.D.
    N Engl J Med 2010; 362:579-589
    February 18, 2010
    DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa0905370


    Of the 54 patients enrolled in the study, 5 were able to willfully modulate their brain activity. In three of these patients, additional bedside testing revealed some sign of awareness, but in the other two patients, no voluntary behavior could be detected by means of clinical assessment. One patient was able to use our technique to answer yes or no to questions during functional MRI; however, it remained impossible to establish any form of communication at the bedside.


    These results show that a small proportion of patients in a vegetative or minimally conscious state have brain activation reflecting some awareness and cognition. Careful clinical examination will result in reclassification of the state of consciousness in some of these patients. This technique may be useful in establishing basic communication with patients who appear to be unresponsive.

When a fellow says, "It ain't the money but the principle of the thing," it's the money. -- Kim Hubbard