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Doctors 'Awaken' Man 6 Years After Severe Brain Injury

ByABC News
March 24, 2008, 12:47 AM

Mar. 23 -- WEDNESDAY, Aug. 1 (HealthDay News) -- In a scene reminiscent of Oliver Sacks' book Awakenings, doctors have managed to partially rekindle the mind of a man who had been in a minimally conscious state for six years.

The 38-year-old patient, who was severely brain-damaged, received deep brain stimulation and can now feed himself and communicate, activities that were unthinkable before the therapy.

This is the first time that deep brain stimulation has been used on a person with a traumatic brain injury in a minimally conscious state, and it offers some hope for others in similar situations, the researchers said.

"Hopefully, this will now begin to open doors that were closed up to this point," said Joseph Giacino, study co-investigator and associate director of neuropsychology at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute and at the New Jersey Neuroscience Institute in Edison, N.J. "There's a very nihilistic view that when a brain is badly damaged there's not much we can do to change that. We have a very tough time getting research funded because of the need to jump higher than most other research. By demonstrating that we did move the bar in this patient this late, we hope that it's going to force people to revisit this somewhat nihilistic view."

Lead study author Dr. Nicholas Schiff, an associate professor of neurology and neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, said: "We set out with a goal to try to identify a set of patients who might, if this was successful, regain functional communication and we thought that was important because being able to communicate is important, even if you remain disabled, because you can reengage with people in your immediate environment, including family and the people taking care of you and give a better idea of your needs. We were able to do this for this patient. Whether this means we'll be able to do this again, we don't know until we do it again but we do think there will be other patients who can respond to this. It's a first step to building a science to do this."