Injured Firefighter Talks After Ten-Year Silence
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
May 3, 2005
ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK--A Buffalo firefighter who over the weekend suddenly began speaking -- nearly ten years after sustaining a severe brain injury -- is being compared to Terri Schiavo.
Don Herbert was injured after a roof collapsed on top of him while he fought a house fire in December 1995. His brain was without oxygen for 12 minutes when his air pack ran out.
Doctors believed since then that Herbert was blind and unable to talk, with little hope of recovery.
On Saturday, Herbert suddenly asked for his wife, Linda.
"How long have I been away?" he asked.
For the next 14 hours or so, he talked with his family and friends to catch up on what he missed during the last ten years. Family members said he believed he had been "away" for just three months.
"I went to see him in the nursing home and I was so amazed," said his physician, Dr. Jamil Ahmed, at a press conference. "I was so surprised that not only that he was talking but he was talking very sensibly. He was remembering his past; he just didn't realize how long he was asleep."
"He recognized people. His comments were very interesting and people were laughing."
"He was almost like in the persistent vegetative coma state, and suddenly this thing happened," Ahmed said.
It is not known why Herbert, who turns 44 this coming Saturday, suddenly started talking. One expert said it might have something to do with the ongoing therapy he has received since the injury.
Dr. Laszlo Mechtler, a neurologist in Western New York, told WGRZ-TV that Herbert's case is similar to Terri Schiavo's in that both were caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain. Schiavo's condition was more severe, he said.
Terri Schiavo's brain was injured in February 1990 when she collapsed and stopped breathing after a heart attack. Several doctors testified in a Florida court that she fell into a persistent vegetative state, unaware of her surroundings, unable to interact with her environment and had little hope for recovery. Terri's husband and guardian, Michael Schiavo, later convinced the court that she would not have wanted to be kept alive by receiving food and water through a feeding tube.
Terri's parents tried for years to block the removal of their daughter's feeding tube, and to have the court order therapies which Mr. Schiavo had refused to allow. They argued that Terri interacted with them, was alert and aware of her surroundings, and would not have wanted to die of dehydration and starvation.
The conflict between Terri's parents and husband gained national attention in March of this year when the U.S. Congress passed an emergency measure to allow the parents to challenge the local court's decision in federal court. The federal court, appeals court, and U.S. Supreme Court rejected the challenge, however, and Terri died on the 31st of March, thirteen days after the feeding tube had been removed.
"One may have had more injury, one may have had less injury," Dr. Mechtler said. "Why one improved and the other did not? That's probably just the severity of the injury and the lack of oxygen."