Some Compare Don Herbert To Terri Schiavo
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
May 6, 2005
BUFFALO, NEW YORK--The case of Don Herbert, the Buffalo firefighter who began speaking over the weekend even though his doctor said he was "almost like in the persistent vegetative coma", has many people thinking again about Terri Schiavo.
Herbert, 44, was injured after a roof collapsed on top of him while he fought a house fire in December 1995. His brain was without oxygen for several minutes when his air pack ran out. Doctors later said that Herbert was blind and unable to talk, with little hope of recovery.
But last Saturday, he started talking for the first time since his injury, and followed commands such as shaking his head, moving his hands, and counting to up to 200.
His doctor, Jamil Ahmed, explained that he switched Herbert three months ago to a combination of drugs ordinarily used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression and Parkinson's disease, in order to stimulate Herbert's brain cells. Ahmed has increased the dosage since Saturday to see if Herbert can recover further.
Doctors have been quick to caution, however, that they cannot predict whether Herbert will continue to improve or will lose some of his newly tapped abilities. They note that other people in a minimally conscious state have been known to show remarkable abilities, but for short periods of time.
Some experts have theorized that Herbert's sudden recovery had to do also with the ongoing therapy he has received since the injury.
"Maybe this case will affect the decision-making" of families facing life-or-death decisions regarding relatives with brain injuries, Diane Coleman, president of the disability rights group Not Dead Yet, told Buffalo News. "I hope that it might have that effect."
Not Dead Yet and several other prominent disability groups supported efforts by the parents of Terri Schiavo to keep her alive after a Florida court ruled that she was in a persistent vegetative state with little hope of recovery, and that she had indicated she would not want to live by artificial means. The tube that provided Terri with hydration and nutrition was removed on March 18. She died 13 days later.
Terri's parents had argued that she deserved to undergo rehabilitative therapies, including swallowing and speech therapies, which her husband and guardian, Michael Schiavo, refused for years to allow.
Doctors point out that Terri Schiavo's brain injury was considered much more severe than Herbert's. The results of an autopsy performed after Schiavo died are not expected for weeks.
"Don Herbert's joyous 'return'" (Buffalo News)
"Medication change may be key in firefighter's startling turn" (Philadelphia Inquirer)
"Medications May Help Improve Condition of Certain Patients with Brain Injuries" (WIVB-TV)
"Different diagnoses, outcomes Donald Herbert and Terry Schiavo" (Buffalo News)