I am already getting catcalls about my position regarding Terri Schiavo because of this new story of a wonderful surprise recovery of a NY fireman:
The Buffalo, N.Y., firefighter who started speaking after nearly 10 years might one day help scientists unravel the mysteries of coma and consciousness.
On Saturday, after almost a decade locked in his own world, answering “yes” and “no” questions but nothing more, Donald Herbert, 43, began a lengthy dialogue with loved ones, including his wife, Linda, and four sons, near his home in Orchard Park, a Buffalo suburb.
Scientists say such awakenings into normal consciousness and speech are rare, “but they are certainly telling us something about the human brain,” said Nicholas Schiff, a neurologist at Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan.
Scientists there have been putting people like Herbert through extensive brain scans and cognitive tests to figure out how they regained coherent speech after so many years.
Herbert was initially in a coma after a roof came down on him during a fire rescue a few days after Christmas 1995. During the next year, he regained consciousness, though his speech was slurred, his vision blurred and he needed help with daily activities. He was bedridden and seemed to have no memory of family, friends or the world.
Then Saturday arrived and with it an untapped reservoir of words and memories of his wife, his sons, who were 14, 13, 11 and 3 at the time of the accident, and his extended family.
Of course, there is a marked difference between someone who is minimally conscious after a brief coma and someone who has languished in a persistent vegetative state for fifteen years, which is why, after all, the lawyers for the Schindler family kept trying to assert that Mrs. Schiavo was in a minimially conscious state- because there IS a possibility for recovery for people in a minimally conscious state:
But Gibbs argued that medical science has changed since Schiavo was last evaluated medically in 2003, and that she has improved since then.
Specifically, he said, Schiavo could be in a minimally conscious state rather than a persistent vegetative state, and therefore could possibly be helped through therapy.
Unfortunately, we will never know what Dr. Frist might have diagnosed from the floor of the Senate, but an inability to detect such ‘nuance’ is predictable from people who practice ‘faith-based’ medicine and whose understanding of biology is rooted in a rejection of evolution and a warm embrace of creationism and intelligent design:
The Kansas minister says many opponents of creation science and intelligent design curricula are shocked and surprised to learn that “there are a lot of intelligent people who happen to know a little bit about science and also about the Bible, and that we really are well represented with great knowledge when it comes to biblical science.”
As the organizer of a coalition of 1,200 activist conservative pastors, Fox says he has observed a growing interest in the heartland of America for schools to teach alternatives to the theory of evolution, such as creationism and intelligent design. “We think that there needs to be a balance put into the public schools,” he says. “They’ve had one side for a long time.”
In the hearings this week, the State Board of Educators will be allowing testimony from 24 opponents of the current pro-evolution science standards in Kansas. Three conservative Board members have decided to permit both sides to spend up to $5,000 in state money to bring in witnesses.
Pastor Fox says there is a “conservative resurgence” going on in Kansas. He cites growing interest in the teachings of alternatives to evolution and last month’s passage of a state marriage amendment and as just two recent examples.
Yeehaw. Flame away.
J. Mark English
This is a fantastic site. Can’t wait to check it out on a daily basis!
People from Kasas don’t want to be stereotyped and then they allow something like this to be considered for their curriculum. Pardon me if I am not impressed with this review. Taking a picture of faith and then forcing the pieces to fit based on “faith” is not science. You cannot argue science based on “faith” because there is nothing to measure it against for accuracy.
oops – Kansas. damn typo’s. Probably 1-2 more but that’s life when you hurry a post.
This question of “balance” is very interesting. Just how much balance is needed? For example, if a science professor tells their students that the earth orbits the sun, do we need an opposing view to “balance” that?
It’s very strange how the wingnuts make a claim to absolute truth on the one hand, then embrace an all-out relativism on the other.
This applies to mass media as much as anything. Richard Viguerie (sp?) was on NOW with Bill Moyers a while back, dismissing the idea that in journalism there is a difference between fact and opinion. “It’s all opinion,” he said, implying that there are no knowable facts. Thus, the logic goes, you have to have complete “balance” so people can make up their own minds on everything. It’s really a serious contradiction.
This is one of the very, very few areas where Kimmitt and I agree.
Let them have their little victory in the textbooks with evolution. Give them their right to slap on silly stickers. We’ll see how far they get with their “faith-based” physics, chemistry, mathematics, etc. “This airplane designed with faith-based engineering.” Thanks, but I’ll drive.
I have nothing against religious folks, but why people on both sides don’t realize that there is, by definition, an unbridgeable gap between faith and science is beyond me.
Then again, we already have plenty of faith based “science”…psychiatry, anyone?
The Disenfrachised Voter
Comapring these two cases is like comparing apples to oranges. You summed it up nicely, especially with this:
“Of course, there is a marked difference between someone who is minimally conscious after a brief coma and someone who has languished in a persistent vegetative state for fifteen years”
Keep up the good fight, John.
Let’s be clear, to call these creationists religious is offensive to anyone who is a Christian and also has a functioning brain and any sense of reality. They are fundamentalists, it’s a primitive tribal mode of existence, and they just use the Christian thing as cover for their fear and hatred.
We’ll see how far they get with their “faith-based” physics, chemistry, mathematics, etc. “This airplane designed with faith-based engineering.”
Damn, I am going to have to use that sometime! The perfect comeback if I find myself sucked into this discussion!
Hats off, Toren!
I think their sympathy with Schiavo was due to their also having liquified brains …
And the pull-the-plug crazies have liquified consciences.
Indeed, let’s “go there” again.
Toren writes: “We’ll see how far they get with their “faith-based” physics, chemistry, mathematics, etc. “This airplane designed with faith-based engineering.” ”
The problem is, it’s not “their”, it’s “our”. As they inflict faith-based physics, chemistry, and math on the US, we’re bound to fall way behind nations educated more rationally.
Apparently, he’s been less lucid and talkative more recently.
That sucks. It’ll suck more if he sinks back down again.
It’s one thing to decide what to do with someone who’s been in a PVS for years. It’s an entirely different thing when the person has actually perked up and talked like this, and could do so again.
‘As they inflict faith-based physics, chemistry, and math on the US, we’re bound to fall way behind nations educated more rationally.’
Its already happening but its more to do with us being a very masculine country and being educated ain’t masculine.
Uh, excuse me, have you taken a look at the roster of fields like aeronautical engineering?
Those airplanes they build in Kansas weren’t designed by female aeronautical engineers. It’s a boys club, all the way. That’s why cockpits don’t have makeup mirrors on the sun visors ;-)
See ya’ll, this is one of the reasons why the Terri case was upsetting to me. Not because I don’t think people have a right to die, I just thought too many lawyers and media people and even some doctors were acting like medical experts in an area of medicine that is an evolving science.
As a medical buff myself, I am knowledgeable enough to know that this area of science is in its infancy. That these classifications of PVS and minimally conscious are not set in stone, and can change in a patient maybe on a daily basis. Just because someone was PVS in 2003 does not mean they are PVS in 2005. I am knowledable enough to know that CAT scans that shows even massive brain damage can be misleading, as the human brain really only needs very little of the total to function in surprising ways.
I’m sure the firefighter was left for dead too, as he too had loss of oxygen to the brain, and had no meaningful responses for years. But yet, one day, he starts talking again. The brain is a mysterious thing.
Good thing he didn’t have a living will, or was married to Michael Schiavo.
I’m sure the firefighter was left for dead too, as he too had loss of oxygen to the brain, and had no meaningful responses for years. But yet, one day, he starts talking again.
Um, you may be sure, but you would be wrong. He was never left for dead, and he has been minimally conscious, speaking and with blurred vision for years:
And people generally, except in very rare cases (ones where the damage is not as severe as Schiavo’s) don’t recover from persistent vegetative states. That is why they chose the term “Persistent,” as opposed to, say- TEMPORARY, or INTERMITTENT.
Read the story. And read this manifesto from the Unitarian Jihad, in particular this statement:
Hmmmm, I’m not sure about that last quote, John. Was that supposed to be educational for me? I will have to digest it further so that I can apply it to my life. I guess it means I’m an ignorant, nice person. Well the glass is at least half full!
When I said ‘left for dead’, I meant figuratively. Like in the minds of people who treated him, I’m sure they thought he’d never recover.
I don’t know where you got that media quote. I heard that the guy only could say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, maybe a few other words, and not always consistently or meaningfully at that, and could not respond to his surroundings or move in any meaningful way. Its not like the guy was talking in sentences or anything, all those years, or the fact that he is talking now would not be a big deal. But the media reports have not been that detailed so far, so I guess we will both have to hear more details on exactly what his situation was before we can compare and contrast to Terri.
But I still stick to my point that you keep clinging to ‘P’ in the PVS. I saw Dr. Bernadine Healy on TV yesterday and she made a good point that because our medicine has advanced now to the point that we can keep these PVS/minimally conscious people sticking around in good health for years now, and we couldn’t so much before, we are now just discovering the limits of recovery for these people. She said recent examples of people ‘waking up’ after many years have shown us it may well take the brain 10, 15 20 years to recover in some cases. She also said to expect more ‘miraculous’ recoveries in the future as more of these brain damaged people are living longer.
No, SCS. The quote was just a funny way of saying that just because you are sure of something, doesn’t mean you are right.
Have a good one…
oh jesus, a “medical buff”
What’s in it’s infancy is the study of neuroplasticity, or the ability to generate new neurons and neural connections. But generating new connections is a far cry from generating a new cerebral cortex. Stanford’s site on neuroplasticity has some instructive pages.
From the page titled, “The Brain’s Natural Reparatory Ability”
“Neuroplasticity enables the brain to compensate for damage, but sometimes an area of the brain is so extensively damaged that its natural ability to reorganize is insufficient to regain the lost function. In the case of Huntington’s Disease and other diseases that cause neuronal death, the death of many cells may render the brain unable to reorganize corrective connections.”
So you see, we start to lean towards that “persistent” thing when someones entire cerebral cortex has disappeared, and after several years neither scans nor the patients symptoms show a single sign of regeneration.
Hey, I like medicine, its a fascinating topic, what can I say? Love the Science Times in the New York Times. (Too lazy to go to med school though).
gswift, I understand what youre saying. I grant you there are limits to the recovery, of course. My point is that we don’t know yet what that line is, and people act like they know, when no one knows.
And by the way, “several years” of brain scans and symptoms unchanging, as you said, may not be enough. You might need a decade or two in some patients. Ask the brain damaged firefighter, he’ll tell you.
He must have had a really good medical plan. My guess is a union-negotiated health plan.
Meanwhile, another baby is getting unplugged in Texas, thanks to Bush’s Futile Care Law of 1999.