MEDICINE: by David PerrinNews Weekly
Coma arousal therapy: Dr Ted Freeman's treatment for PVS patients
, October 9, 2004
Relatives and friends of people in a coma - or, as it is sometimes called, a persistent vegetative state (PVS) - hope that at some time their loved one will recover.
However, according to one Australian doctor, Dr E.A. (Ted) Freeman, there are techniques that can help coma patients to recover fully or partially.
In an interview with the ABC Radio National program, All in the Mind
(July 24), Dr Freeman described how he himself had once been in a coma while working as a mission doctor in Vanuatu after having contracted meningitis early in his career.
Concerned that orthodox medicine was not coping well with coma patients, Dr Freeman developed an unorthodox coma-arousal therapy.
He met with stringent opposition from other medical practitioners working in the field who believed that little or nothing could be done for people in a coma.Misdiagnosis
In fact, many coma patients are locked away in nursing homes due to misdiagnosis and the lack of clinical experiences of some doctors.
Doctors must accurately determine the level of consciousness, as this will determine whether a patient is destined for intensive rehabilitation or a nursing home.
Coma is a profound state of unconsciousness. The functions of the heart, kidneys and lungs are intact, but the patient is in a "locked-in" state, unable to move or communicate.
Family members of coma patients have often been able to detect that the patient was aware of what was going on around them.
One coma patient after recovery was able to recall a doctor telling his family to switch off his life support and to donate his organs.
Another coma patient regained consciousness after 19 years in a coma, and Dr Freeman believes that the patient would have showed signs of recovery long before regaining consciousness that were not picked up by the doctors.
Some coma patients can receive stimuli from their environment through their eyes, ears, touch, taste and smell and take in what is going on around them. But, as they are in a locked-in state, they cannot move muscles in order to communicate back.
Coma can be produced by an initial injury, heavy drug therapy or being deprived of sensory input by, for example, being shut up in a dark room.Family role
Dr Freeman decided to bypass the medical establishment and work directly with family members.
The therapy involved family members taking the coma patient through a regimen of controlled auditory, visual and physical stimulation for up to six hours a day every day.
It was the hope of the family members that drove them on.
One of Dr Freeman's most successful patients was Louise, who Dr Freeman knew was aware because she was able to make eye contact with him. Louise eventually recovered enough to become a Paralympian.
However, not all cases can be successfully treated, either because of the patient's condition, or because the family is unable or unwilling to implement the therapy.
Also, some coma patients had been left for a number of years to the point where little could be done for them.
Dr Freeman in 1987 published a book entitled The Catastrophe of Coma
(publisher: David Bateman, 1987), which has largely been ignored by the medical establishment. A research grant of $1.5 million in the early 1980s to scientifically study Dr Freeman's therapy was never used due to squabbles by the hospital involved.
Dr Freeman deeply regrets that nothing has changed much for coma patients and their families today and that there is still much suffering.
He believes that the issue of coma should be opened up to the light of public scrutiny rather than being kept within the medical profession. He believes that it is time for health consumers to rise up and take action.
- David Perrin is national president of the Australian Family Association and executive officer of the Drug Advisory Council of Australia.