Coma man raises new fears

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

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

The man had been diagnosed as in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) and at one stage the health authority caring for him 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 man is in the Royal Hospital for Neurodisability in Putney, west London. Last week, a musician diagnosed as permanently brain-damaged at the same hospital told police via a computer and buzzer how he was attacked on a late-night train nearly two years ago.

The new case is more remarkable because of the length of time the man was unconscious, after an anaesthetic error during a routine operation. At least two experts diagnosed the middle-aged businessman as PVS.

A spokesman for the hospital said yesterday that it could make no comment on the patient until the publication of a new report on the diagnosis of PVS, which is due out next month.

But Keith Andrews, director at the hospital, said the man was mentally competent enough to be asked whether he wanted to be interviewed by a newspaper, and able to indicate his refusal.

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