Coma man defies diagnosis

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The Independent Online
THE awakening of a man thought to be in a permanent coma after seven years has raised doubts over doctors' ability to diagnose "brain deaths".

The unnamed former businessman, thought to be in the same type of irreversible coma as "right to die" Hillsborough victim Tony Bland, was said yesterday to be aware of his surroundings and communicating with hospital staff.

The health authority caring for the man, diagnosed as in a persistent vegetative state (PVS), at one stage discussed seeking a court ruling to withdraw artificial feeding keeping him alive. His wife was said to be opposed and the idea was not pursued.

The case of the ex-businessman, being treated at the Royal Hospital for Neurodisability in Putney, south-west London, places a question mark over experts' ability to diagnose such cases reliably.

Last week a musician, diagnosed as being permanently brain-damaged at the same hospital, told police via a computer and a buzzer how he was attacked on a late night train nearly two years ago.

The case reported today is more remarkable because of the length of time the man was unconscious, after an anaesthetic error during an operation.

Cases such as his, where the brain is starved of oxygen, are thought to be less likely to misdiagnose than head injuries.

Dr Fleur Fisher, head of ethics and science at the BMA, said the latest case reinforced the necessity for people in deep comas to have a high level of care, together with a "planned arousal programme".

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