Belgian man in false 'coma' for 23 years plans memoirs

25th November 2009, Comments 0 comments

Rom Houben, a Belgian man who was wrongly diagnosed as comatose for 23 years, is planning to write a book about his extraordinary story, the doctor who rescued him from isolation announced.

BRUSSELS - Before his accident in November 1983, the then young man spoke four languages, French, Dutch, English and a bit of German, said Professor Steven Laureys of Liege University.

"Today he is still capable of communicating in these languages," he added.

Since 2006, when his true condition was correctly diagnosed, he has regained enough coordination to allow him to use a finger," when aided, to use a special computer keyboard, Laureys explained.

"He intends to write about his experiences and I am pleased," the doctor and researcher told AFP.

"Rom has given a face to this scientific reality," he said.

According to recent research by Laureys and others, Houben's case is by no means unique.

Their studies showed that in too many cases inaccurate coma diagnoses were given -- more than 40 percent in certain categories of sufferers.

These days Houben can even send text messages to his mother from his care home in Heusden-Zolder, in northeast Belgium.

"He is also capable of replying to complicated questions, such as -- does he want to keep living?" said Laureys.

Former engineering student and martial arts enthusiast Houben told the German weekly Der Spiegel that he had meditated to pass the long years trapped in his own body.

Using the specially-adapted keyboard to type messages, Houben has been able to describe the ordeal he endured.

"I would scream, but no sound would come out," he said, "I will never forget the day they finally discovered what was wrong -- it was my second birth."

He could hear what was being said around him throughout, but was unable to respond.

"I became the witness to my own suffering as doctors and nurses tried to speak to me and eventually gave up," he said.

As far as the possibility of further progress is concerned, "that's difficult to say," he added.

"We don't have the statistics to base it on, but nor can we hang on to the argument that he won't recuperate further... In any case we hope that he will reach the stage where he can communicate and move in his chair without help.

Laureys stressed that it is vital, with any coma patient, to discover whether they have plunged into a vegetative state or if there is some minimal consciousness.

"Since Rom Houben's case things have evolved" he said. Work is underway in Belgium to introduce a standardised evaluation system for patients with the use of brain scanners.


0 Comments To This Article