Woman Wakes After 27 Years Unconscious

Woman Wakes After 27 Years Unconscious

LONDON — When Munira Abdulla had last been fully awake, the first George Bush was America’s president and the Soviet Union was nearing its demise. It was the year the Persian Gulf war ended.

In 1991, at the age of 32, Ms. Abdulla, from the oasis city of Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates, suffered injuries in a road accident that left her in a state of reduced consciousness for most of the next three decades.

After 27 years, she awoke last June at a clinic near Munich, where doctors had been treating her for the complications of her long illness.

“I never gave up on her, because I always had a feeling that one day she will wake up,” said Omar Webair, her 32-year-old son, who was just 4 when the accident happened. He shared his mother’s story with the Emirati news website The National on Monday.

Dr. Friedemann Müller, the chief physician at the Schön Clinic, a private hospital with campuses around Germany, said that Ms. Abdulla had been in a state of minimal consciousness. He said only a handful of cases like hers, in which a patient recovered after such a long period, had been recorded.

Patients in a state of reduced consciousness are usually classified into three categories. In a full coma, the patient shows no signs of being awake, with eyes closed and unresponsive to the environment. A persistent vegetative state includes those who seem awake but show no signs of awareness, while a minimally conscious state can include periods in which some response — such as moving a finger when asked — can be noted. Colloquially, all three categories are often described as comas.

Signs that Ms. Abdulla was recovering started to emerge last year when she began saying her son’s name. A couple of weeks later, she started repeating verses from the Quran that she had learned decades ago.

“We didn’t believe it at first,” Dr. Müller said. “But eventually it became very clear that she was saying her son’s name.”

Dr. Müller said he had not expected such a recovery from Ms. Abdulla.

She had been at the German clinic for treatment for seizures and contorted muscles that made her body hard to handle and that kept her from being able to sit in a wheelchair safely. Part of the treatment was to install a device that delivered medication directly into her spine, a factor that Dr. Müller said could have brought on her recovery.

Only a handful of people are known to have made similar recoveries.

Terry Wallis, from Arkansas, was 19 when he skidded off a bridge in a pickup truck. He uttered his first word since the accident, “Mom,” nearly two decades later, in 2003.

His recovery was so unusual that scientists used it as an opportunity to study how the brain functions and to help determine which patients with severe brain damage had the best chance of recovering.

The issue is often of vital importance. In a landmark ruling in 1976, the New Jersey Supreme Court found unanimously that the father of Karen Ann Quinlan had the right to decide to forgo life-sustaining treatment on her behalf. Ms. Quinlan died in 1985, a decade after she slipped into a coma.

The case of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who spent 15 years in a persistent vegetative state before her feeding tube was removed in 2005, stoked further debate in the United States and beyond about a person’s right to live or die.

With medical care, some can stay in a state of reduced consciousness for decades. Aruna Shanbaug, an Indian nurse, spent more than 40 years in such a condition until her death at age 66 in 2015. She had been left in a permanent vegetative state after being strangled with a metal chain during a sexual assault.

Mr. Webair, Ms. Abdulla’s son, said he had avoided serious injury in the accident in 1991 because his mother had seen the crash coming and managed to embrace him before the impact.

“To me she was like gold; the more time passed by, the more valuable she became,” he told The National.

According to the newspaper, Ms. Abdulla, who has returned to the United Arab Emirates, is being treated at a hospital in Abu Dhabi.

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