November 24, 2009

Man Wrongly Diagnosed As Comatose For 23 Years


Imagine being trapped inside of a body, unable to move, speak, or do anything. This is the exact way Belgian man, Rom Houben must have felt. Houben was diagnosed as comatose 23 years ago, but only recently have doctors realized a misdiagnosis was made. Using a specialized brain scan, that was not available when Houben was diagnosed, doctors were able to see that there was a level of consciousness.

Houben has been provided with the equipment needed for him to communicate. With the help of a speech therapist, Houben typed a message that expressed his frustration, but how he is thankful for his family. However, many are skeptical that it is really Houben communicating. His speech therapist says she can feel his hand guiding her with a small amount of pressure, and that when she is going towards a wrong letter Houben’s hand offers some resistance.

A bioethics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Arthur Caplan discusses his thoughts on Houben’s communication. “That’s called ‘facilitated communication.’ That is Ouija board stuff. It’s been discredited time and time again. When people look at it, it’s usually the person doing the pointing who’s doing the messages, not the person they claim they are helping.”

Whether or not Houben is really communicating isn’t the biggest thing right now. The fact that after 23 years of being diagnosed as comatose, Houben has received the proper diagnosis could definitely be a comforting feeling for the family.

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