It has long been believed if a patient has been in a permanent vegetative state (PVS) for over a year, the chances of recovery are extremely slim.
However, the hopes of many have been renewed after a man was woken from a fifteen-year long vegetative state after becoming the first ever person to trial vagus stimulation.
This incredibly advanced treatment has been pioneered by the French National Centre for Scientific Research in Bron, and involves implanting a stimulator on a nerve connecting the heart, lungs and digestive tract with the brain.
Scientists say stimulation of vagus nerve that links brain&major organs has pulled a patient out of a 15-year vegetative state#innovation
— S. Vasudeva Rao (@vasudeva57) September 27, 2017
Before the breakthrough treatment, the 35-year-old patient was unresponsive and oblivious to his surroundings after a 2001 car accident left him severely injured. He had not shown any signs of improvement.
However – according to research published in Current Biology – he has now taken enormously positive steps since the stimulator was implanted.
Early signs of responsiveness included opening his eyes more often and smiling when asked to.
#HealthNews Vegetative-state patient responds to therapy
— INTELLIGENT INDIA (@ii_newsdesk) September 27, 2017
A month later, the patient’s eyes were moving around in response to the actions of those around him and he could turn his gaze from one side of the bed to the other when requested to.
He was also able to stay awake long enough to listen to his therapist read a book to him.
The man even exhibited some emotional responses, tears springing to his eyes when the researchers played some of his favourite pieces of music, by French singer Jean-Jaques Goldman.
— Lyon Uni. Hospitals (@CHUdeLyon_News) September 25, 2017
Speaking to New Scientist, team leader Angela Sirigu discussed the affection the team have for this man:
We were very happy when we saw him reacting.
This patient is like our baby. We are very attached to him. He’ll always remain in our hearts, because he’s our first patient.
so french scientists figured out how to undo the vegetative state of the brain #wow
— ♀ (@azhamone) September 26, 2017
Sirigu and her team are now hoping to treat people with less severe brain injuries, where greater progress still might be made.
Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.