Rom Houben was in a tragic car accident in 1983, leaving him in, what doctors thought, was a vegetative state. His family never gave up hope, and insisted that his brain was still functioning. After taking him to the United States for testing on five different occasions, and having sought out the advice of dozens of specialists in Europe, the family finally was able to confirm their belief with the help of Belgium's Coma Science Group. After doing a sophisticated test on Houben, doctors found that he had a normally functioning brain.
Doctors and the family have since been able to devise a system in which he is able to communicate. Originally, he would tap yes or no answers on to a small device by his foot. Now, he is able to tap messages onto a special touch screen monitor mounted to his wheelchair.
Powerlessness. Utter powerlessness. At first I was angry, then I learned to live with it,” he said, punching the message onto the screen during a recent interview with the Belgian RTBF TV network. He calls his rescue a renaissance.
Doctors around the world are calling what happened to him a shame. “Maybe the diagnosis was missed for so long because it happened 23 years ago. We have better tools now than we did before,” comments Marie Pasinski, M.D., a neurologist with Harvard Medical School. “As physicians we have a responsibility to look at every case with fresh eyes, review the diagnosis, rerun tests and try new tests as they become available.”
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Man Thought to be in Vegetative State Was Alert the Whole Time