There has been a surge of interest in the US over Donald Herbert’s recovery that comes on the back of the legal battle over Terri Schiavo, who was in a persistent vegetative state. Her feeding tube was eventually removed and 17 days later she died.
Whether Herbert’s recovery sheds any light on the Schiavo decision depends on how their medical conditions compare. The US non-commercial radio station, NPR, has a short interview with neurologist Dr. James Bernat, a professor at Dartmouth Medical School. He makes clear that, while few medical details have so far been released, it seems their conditions were quite different.
While Terry Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state, Donald Herbert was ‘minimally conscious’. This means he had some awareness of his surroundings, compared to Terry Schiavo who had none whatsoever.
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Dr Burnett gives some of the credit for the recovery to the medications Herbert has been given, but warns that his gains may not be sustained or permanent. Brain damaged people in minimally conscious states are extremely sensitive to changes in metabolic conditions and can easily relapse.