After 19 years in a minimally conscious state, Terry Wallis regained consciousness. Researchers say that his nervous system essentially rewired itself. Terry suffered from a sever closed-head trauma and sever axonal shearing after a motor vehicle accident.
Imaging studies suggested that his remarkable but glacially slow recover of some language skills and motor function was due to axonal re-growth in undamaged areas of white matter, reports Henning U. Voss, Ph.D. a physicist at Weill Cornell Medical College, and colleagues in the July issue of the journal of Clinical Investigation.
Using diffusion-tensor magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography techniques to track whit matter changes in Wallis, an in another patient with no evidence of recovery after six years in a minimally conscious state, the authors found evidence in Wallis’ brain suggestive of myelinated nerve fiber growth, pointing to a rewiring in posterior medial cortices.
The finding suggests that assumption about the inability of the nervous system to repair itself after traumatic injuries may need to be reconsidered, wrote Steven Laureys, Ph.D. and colleagues, of the University of Liège in Belgium, in an accompanying editorial.
Terry has regained the ability to speak coherently for brief periods, and although he is unable to walk, he does exhibit some control of movement in both of his legs. Nicholas D. Schiff, M.D. of Weill Cornell College cautions that recovery from minimally conscious states is exceedingly rare, and that Wallis’ was a “one in 300 million case”.