National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Why Wallis Woke

BY John Lilly

July 16-22, 2006 Issue | Posted 7/17/06 at 9:00 AM


MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW, July 5 — Remember Terry Wallis, the Arkansas man who woke up in 2003 after spending 19 years in a coma? Since then, scientists have studied the car-crash victim’s brain using new imaging techniques.

Their findings, reported the publication of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, could help doctors come up with new interventions to rouse minimally conscious patients back to full awareness.

The first scan the investigators recorded — eight months after Wallis uttered his first word, “Mom” — showed that Wallis had profound brain damage. Compared with the brains of 20 normal subjects, both the overall structure and the neural fibers of his brain showed severe degeneration. “That in itself is a major piece of knowledge — that he could have this much injury and still have this kind of recovery years later,” said lead investigator Nicholas Schiff, a neurologist with Cornell University.