A MAN who was left paralysed and unable to talk for eight years after choking on a piece of meat has regained consciousness after doctors gave him a sleeping drug.
The 37-year-old, known as Richard, regained consciousness just 20 minutes after being given a sleeping pill.
Richard was given sleeping pill Zolpidem which helped him temporarily regain consciousness [/caption]
Richard, from the Netherlands, was even able to get out of his wheelchair and walk aided by doctors and recognised his family.
He also managed to speak to his father after being unable to even utter one word for eight years.
In his late 20s Richard was hospitalised due to a serious lack of oxygen after choking on a piece of meat.
He was left with severe brain damage and akinetic mutism, a rare mental state where people cannot speak, eat or move, but can still open their eyes.
A new study, published in the journal Cortex has now revealed how just 10mg of sleeping pill Zolpidem helped Richard make a recovery.
Doctors said that the pill could temporarily help people with certain types of brain damage regain their sense of speech and movement.
Doctoral student Willemijn van Erp at Radboud University said: “It was clear that Richard saw and heard us, but because of his brain injury, he was barely able to respond to us.”
Ms Van Erp had been training as an elderly care physician when she met Richard in a specialised nursing home.
Richard had spent the last 10 years trapped inside his own head and his family had agreed that doctors could administer the medication as they had previously said there was little that could be done for his condition.
Twenty minutes after taking the pill Richard was able to operate his wheelchair.
Ms Van Erp said: “Because Richard’s situation seemed hopeless, the family and I decided to administer this medication to Richard.
“Against all expectations, Zolpidem had remarkable effects.
“After taking the sleep pill, Richard started talking, wanted to call his father, and started recognising his brothers again.
What is akinetic mutism?
Akinetic mutism is a condition which causes decreased motivation.
It is a syndrome of variable severity which is caused by lesions on the frontal lobes.
This can result in the patient being unable to respond to others and can leave them unable to move.
The patient’s mind is usually fully functional.
Treatment depends on the affected brain structures.
Previous treatments have included magnesium sulphate.
“With some help, he could even get up from his wheelchair and walk short distances.”
After the incident it was found that Richard’s brain had shut down to sensory overload.
The sleeping pill was able to mute the unwanted brain activity, allowing Richard to regain his speech and movement, until the effects of the drug wore off about two hours later.
Dr Hisse Arnts at Amsterdam UMC said: “Richard’s brain scans show overactivity in certain parts of the brain.
“This overactivity causes noise and somehow shuts down the ‘good’ brain activity.
“We have discovered that administering this sleeping medication can suppress this unwanted brain overactivity, creating space for speech and movement.”
The pill was able to be administered once a day for five days until the effects wore off.
Dr Arnts said that the windows of how effective the pill became drew narrower and Richard’s ability to talk in these windows also decreased.
Dr Arnts added:”The use of multiple doses of zolpidem during a single day showed no improvement in his clinical condition and sometimes even caused sedation.”
Akinetic mutism has previously been observed in people following operations and is usually seen in people with certain bacterial infections and brain tumours.
The experts are currently looking into long-lasting solutions which could help Richard and other patients with this specific kind of brain injury stay fully conscious.