Man misdiagnosed as being in coma for 23 years

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Belgian man who was thought to have been in a coma for 23 years was in fact conscious yet paralyzed the whole time, as was discovered in 2006. Doctors diagnosed Rom Houben, now 46, as being in an irretrievable coma after a car crash in 1983.

It was only after his family's insistence that he be given another PET scan that doctors realised he had been conscious yet unable to move or talk ever since the accident. Doctors and his family slowly taught him to communicate using tiny movements of his feet and eventually through a specially designed keyboard.

Houben used the keyboard to tell a German newspaper that he 'screamed, but there was nothing to hear' and that when the truth was discovered it was like 'being born again'.

Despite discovering his consciousness in 2006, Houben's case only came to light recently after a study published in the journal BMC Neurology about coma patients used his case as an example. The study, by Professor Steven Laureys of Belgium's Coma Science Group, suggested that up to four in ten so called 'vegetative state' coma patients may, in fact, be misdiagnosed.