A Flicker of Consciousness

A vegetative state is a life sentence. New research on the minimally conscious may help commute it

Peter van Agtmael for TIME

Valentine Filipov's eyes follow a mirror during a test doctors used to confirm he has retained some level of consciousness.

On Sunday, Aug. 9, 2009, valentine Filipov, a handsome and energetic manager at a refrigeration factory in Pazardzhik, Bulgaria, decided to change a burned-out lamp in his garden. His daughter Anna refers to what happened next as "my father's ridiculous accident." Filipov lost his balance on the 3-ft. (0.9 m) stepladder and fell, hitting his head on the pavement. The blow put him in a coma for five days. When he opened his eyes, doctors determined that the damage he sustained had left him in a vegetative state, a condition defined by unresponsive wakefulness, in which patients follow a normal sleep-wake...

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