This Woman Woke Up From a Coma After Being Barely Conscious for 27 Years—How Is That Possible?

A woman in the United Arab Emirates regained consciousness after spending 27 years in a minimally responsive state, according to UAE-based news service The Nation.

The woman, Munira Abdulla, was involved in a car accident with her son in 1991. She was comatose after the accident and later became minimally responsive—and she stayed that way until June of last year.

In June, she started speaking again for the first time since the accident. Her son says she’s now able to have entire conversations.

After hearing Abdulla’s story, we had questions. The first was: How did this happen? So we asked an expert for the facts.

“The unusual part of this case is that the delay was so long,” Vivien Lee, MD, director of the Comprehensive Stroke Center at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Health.

It’s extremely rare for someone to recover consciousness after so long, she says. “It is possible for somebody to maybe get better after years. These cases are rare, but it’s possible.”

Abdulla’s son, Omar Webair, was 4 at the time of the accident, which happened when a school bus collided with the car he and his mother were in. Webair told The Nation his mother shielded him from the impact of the crash. He walked away from the crash with a minor injury, but his mother wasn’t as fortunate.

Dr. Lee says one of three things happens when a patient goes into a coma: They wake up, they go into a vegetative state, or they go into a minimally responsive or minimally conscious state, as Abdulla did. If a patient becomes vegetative, they won’t respond to the world around them. If they’re minimally conscious, they can respond, but their response doesn’t amount to much. For example, Dr. Lee says, a minimally responsive patient might blink if an object gets too close to their face.

She adds that patients who recover from brain injuries might not remember what led to their injury. “It would not be uncommon for people who wake up from traumatic brain injury to not recall the incident,” she explains. The reason is simple: When the brain is being injured, it isn’t recording memories.

Webair says his mom said his name when she woke up from the minimally responsive state she was in. He says his mother’s case highlights why you shouldn’t give up on loved ones who haven’t been responsive for years.

“I shared her story to tell people not to lose hope on their loved ones,” he told The Nation. “Don’t consider them dead when they are in such a state. All those years, the doctors told me she was a hopeless case and that there was no point of the treatment I was seeking for her, but whenever in doubt I put myself in her place and did whatever I could to improve her condition.”

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