Monday, Dec. 08, 2008

Terry Wallis

After being severely injured when the pickup truck he was riding in went off the road in 1984, Terry Wallis was declared to be in a persistent vegetative state by doctors — there but not there, as his father later told the New York Times. But in the months and years following the accident, Wallis' condition improved to what doctors had recently begun calling a minimally conscious state: one in which a person may be severely brain damaged but is occasionally responsive. That changed in a big way on June 11, 2003, when he greeted his mother with the word "mom" — after remaining mute for 19 years. Wallis' recovery made him a celebrity: camera crews from Japan and the UK came calling, as did journalists and talk shows. But he became a scientific legend as well. Using cutting-edge imaging techniques, scientists were able to examine how Wallis' brain had effectively grown new connections — rewiring itself during his long period in the dark — and glean new insight into how the brain works and heals.