The miracle recovery of coma patient Ayanda Nqinana after seven years has been ascribed to a sleeping tablet. This is reported to have the opposite effect on coma patients to what it has on the non-comatose.
The same happened to Louis Viljoen from Gauteng, who had been in a coma for five years.
This discovery was originally made by Dr Wally Nel, a GP from Johannesburg, in 1999. Since then, about 15 patients around the world have been rescued from a comatose or vegetative state with the help of this drug.
According to Nel, in an interview on Sixty Minutes on MSN, it certainly doesn't happen to all patients. He said about three-quarters of patients show some reaction, like a finger moving, or an eye twitching, but a complete awakening is very unusual.
What is a coma?
Medically speaking, it is a state of unconsciousness lasting more than six hours, in which someone does not respond to any stimuli, and cannot be woken up. If the cerebral cortex (gray matter covering the outer layer of the brain) or the brain stem has been injured, a patient can experience a coma. Many patients who are comatose have brain injuries.
Many things can cause comas, such as severe intoxication, central nervous system diseases, strokes, head trauma or hypothermia, to name but a few. Sometimes doctors induce a coma to save a patient from experiencing pain, or following brain trauma of some kind.
Generally, the longer someone is in a coma, the smaller the chances of a recovery.
It must also be remembered that even if a coma patient is awake and talking, it may take years of therapy for them to be able to move independently and perform other tasks. Coma recoveries are relatively rare.
Remarkable coma recoveries
Donald Herbert, a US firefighter, spoke his first words ten years after suffering a brain injury while fighting a fire. He had been diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state.
Sarah Scantlin was hit by a drunk driver in 1984 in the US. Twenty years later she started speaking, much to everyone's surprise. She has had to undergo several surgeries as her muscles had atrophied. She can now stand supported by a device, and she can eat normal food again.
Rom Houben, a Belgian man is now thought to have been conscious for some of the 23 years he was misdiagnosed as being vegetative. There is some controversy surrounding this case.
Steven Thorpe, a 17-year-old UK boy, had been declared brain dead by four doctors, after sustaining devastating injuries in a car crash. Doctors advised that his life support machines be switched off. His parents refused, and two weeks later he regained consciousness. He left the hospital less than a month later. He now works as a trainee accounts clerk.
Terry Wallis was injured in a car accident in 1984. He was left a quadriplegic and was in a coma for almost 20 years. Then he started speaking again. He still requires round-the-clock care.
(Susan Erasmus, Health24, September 2012)
(Health24, WebMD, Fox News, Mail Online)