"I screamed, but there was nothing to hear" - Macleans.ca

“I screamed, but there was nothing to hear”

Man believed to be in coma suffers in silence for 23 years


A Belgium man misdiagnosed as being in a hopeless vegetative state for 23 years was in fact conscious, though he had no way of letting his doctors know he was suffering. Rom Houbens, a martial arts enthusiast and engineering student, was paralyzed after a 1983 car crash. Three years ago, he was correctly diagnosed after a re-evaluation of his case showed his brain function to be almost normal. Houbens, who remains in constant care facility, recalls waking up after the accident: “I screamed, but there was nothing to hear,” he says. “I became a witness to my own suffering as doctors and nurses tried to speak with me until they gave up all hope.” Now able to tap out messages on a computer screen, he calls the proper diagnosis his “second birth.” Neurologist Steven Laureys, who led the re-examination, believes there are many other similar cases of misdiagnosis around the world.


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