Trapped in Your Own Body

"I knew that she was there and mentally cognitive," he said.

Steve Chiappa was also locked in, but no doctor suspected. Imagine how Steve felt as he listened to one of his doctors suggesting to Cindy that they disconnect his pacemaker, implanted years before. Cindy said she remembered that moment well.

"[The doctor] said, 'Well, if we change the batteries and don't necessarily connect the leads, then if something happens, it happens, and that might be an easy way for him to go,'" she said.

It made her furious, because Cindy believed Steve was still there.

"I was dumbfounded. I was pissed. I was really angry," she said.

Cindy thought her husband was blinking at her in response to her questions. The doctors thought those blinks were just reflexes, but they were wrong.

Five years later, Steve can recall everything that happened around his hospital bed.

"One of them said, 'He's nothing but a vegetable,'" he said.

The Road to Recovery

Steve has painstakingly learned to speak again. Now he calls himself "a thinking vegetable" as a joke.

Steve -- like some locked-in patients -- has recovered a little movement, which makes a big difference in his life. With one touch of a universal remote he can control the TV, lights, stereo and -- his link to the world -- his computer.

Steve is now writing a book, one letter at a time. So, what about that moment when a doctor suggested that removing his pacemaker battery would be an "easy way to go?" He addresses that moment in the book.

"Had I been a good husband?" he wrote. "Had I told her how much I loved her? I guess so. She was yelling, 'You stay away from him.'"

But for a long time, Steve did wish that he would die.

"He would say to me, 'I want to die. I want to die. You've gotta help me, you have to help me. I can't do it myself,'" Cindy said.

The turning point came, Steve said, when he realized that Cindy and his family still loved him.

Locked in, but Not Left out

Though Glenda Hickey's voice has not yet returned, she has learned to communicate again. She looks up for "yes" and down for "no."

To speak she follows a simple but tedious method, using an alphabetical chart that groups the letters into rows. As the letters are read, Glenda responds "yes" or "no" to spell out each word. By now, the whole family has memorized the chart.

Glenda Hickey may be locked in, but she is not left out. Kevin says they have openly talked about their marriage, and decided to make it work.

"We said, OK, well, we have to make a decision here if … as husband and wife, what's going to happen now. And then I decided that we were going to make a go of it," Kevin said.

And they have. The family functions with the help of caretakers who watch over Glenda and the children while Kevin works.

A Revolutionary New Treatment

In the future, there may be more help for patients like Glenda from a familiar little pill: Viagra.

Dr. Michael Chopp, a neuroscientist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, has found that Viagra helps the brain make new nerve cells. His experiments are encouraging, showing that rats can recover from strokes after taking the drug.

"I think we are poised to revolutionize the treatment of neurologic disease," he said.

But the Hickeys aren't banking on any medical revolution. They're just continuing with their lives. Their marriage remains a "new normal," and that includes sex.

But what they didn't expect was that Glenda would get pregnant again.

At first, their doctor urged them to terminate the pregnancy because it was so risky for Glenda. But in the delivery room the doctor apologized, telling Kevin, "You know, I think God had a little hand in this one."

Hope Hickey was born 20 months ago. Doctors believe that this is the first time that a woman living with locked-in syndrome has given birth.

It is clearly not the life they'd planned. But Glenda and Kevin still find joy in the life they're living. And they say that, in the end, is all anyone can ask for.

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