A man, who was in a coma for nearly a decade, regained full consciousness and started to walk, minutes after a doctor gave him a sleeping pill.
The man, identified as 37-year-old Richard, was hospitalized in his late 20s after he choked on a piece of meat which left him with severe brain damage. He suffered from akinetic mutism, a condition in which a person cannot move or speak.
After eight years, the doctors discovered that certain types of brain damage could be temporarily cured by sleeping pills. With his family’s permission, the pill, Zolpidem, was administered and within 20 minutes of taking it, the man woke up and also asked the nurse how he can operate the wheelchair.
“Because Richard’s situation seemed hopeless, the family and I decided to administer this medication to Richard. Against all expectations, Zolpidem had remarkable effects. After taking the sleeping pill, Richard started talking, wanted to call his father, and started recognizing his brothers again. With some help, he could even get up from his wheelchair and walk short distances,” Doctoral student Willemijn van Erp at Radboud University told medical journal Cortex.
Speaking about the decision to give him the sleeping pill, Dr. Hisse Arnts at Amsterdam UMC said, “Richard’s brain scans show overactivity in certain parts of the brain. This overactivity causes noise and somehow shuts down the “good” brain activity. We have discovered that administering this sleeping medication can suppress this unwanted brain overactivity, creating space for speech and movement.”
The medication’s effect, however, started wearing off after it was administered once a day for five days.
“The time windows during which the patient was able to talk and move got narrower, and his abilities to move and speak during these time windows decreased. The use of multiple doses of zolpidem during a single day showed no improvement in his clinical condition and sometimes even caused sedation,” Dr. Arnts told the journal.