The doctors said Terry Wallis, who was in a coma after a car accident 19 years ago, was unlikely ever to wake up. But two weeks ago his lips moved and he said "Mom" as his mother was paying a regular visit to his Arkansas nursing home.
Since then, more words have been tumbling out. "He started out with 'Mom' and surprised her, and then it was 'Pepsi' and then it was 'milk'. And now it's anything he wants to say," said Alesha Badgley, of the Stone County Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre. Terry's awakening hasshocked his family. Angilee Wallis, his mother, calls it a miracle. "I couldn't tell you my first thought I just fell over on the floor," she said.
Mr Wallis was 19 when he and two friends fell off a bridge into a ravine while riding in a pick-up truck. One was unscathed, one died, and Mr Wallis was left in a coma and paralysed from the neck down. His new wife gave birth to a daughter just after the accident.
His wife, Sandi, said: "It's been hard dealing with it; it's been hard realising the man I married can't be there. We all, the whole family, missed out on his company."
Mr Wallis still suffers brain damage and has trouble understanding that it is no longer 1984. He thoughtRonald Reagan was President and that the Arkansas governor was still Bill Clinton. He also asked for his now-dead grandmother, even remembering her old telephone number.
His awakening apparently started some years ago when he reacted by shaking his head violently when a doctor told the family that medical bills had reached $125,000. He then began responding to questions with grunts and blinks.
Doctors still debate the definition of a coma. Patients who remain unconscious for many years are more commonly said to be in a permanent vegetative state. It is very rare for them to regain consciousness.
The timing of the recovery also has raised eyebrows. His father, Jerry, said: "It's kind of peculiar. He wrecked [the car] on Friday the 13th and 19 years later he started talking on Friday the 13th."
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