Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Don't be surprised when you don't read the name "Terri Schiavo" in this story in the New York Times about a severely brain-damaged firefighter who "woke up" after ten years in a semi-conscious condition. Donald Herbert's brain injury occurred when debris fell on him during a call to a burning building. Until recently, Herbert didn't recognize family members, was nearly blind, and was virtually silent.

Here is where the story gets troubling:

Neurologists said yesterday that there was no way to know the true
prevalence of outcomes like Mr. Herbert's because people in his state have never been followed in long-term epidemiological studies.

Details of his recovery are murky, but neurologists said yesterday that his
symptoms suggested that he had suffered damage to multiple areas of his brain
because of a lack of oxygen for several minutes at the time of the

"He has classic signs of hypoxic damage," said Dr. Alan C. Carver, an
assistant professor of neurology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "It's
not hard to understand what happened to his brain in 1995. What is remarkable is to think that after 10 years of being like this the brain should show evidence of regeneration, because when cells don't get oxygen for a prolonged period of time they die."

Wow, that really is "remarkable"! I only wish that the media were a little more interested in probing these uncertainties before the Florida judiciary killed someone in a similar state. I guess Don Herbert was lucky enough not to have a female version of Michael Schiavo as his wife. If he did, we would be reading a very different story here.
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