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Recovery from PVS -- Haleigh Poutre

Posted Sep 22 2008 11:04am

In September 2005, 11-year-old Haleigh Poutre arrived at Baystate Medical Center severely beaten into a coma. According to ABC News , doctors judged that "Short of developing a technique for a complete brain transplant, there is no hope that medical treatment will be discovered in the foreseeable future which could reverse" her condition. The Massachusetts DSS was given custody and, in October 2005, sought to remove Haleigh from life support. A Massachusetts court granted that request.

But in January 2006, just days before doctors planned to remove her ventilator, Haleigh began breathing on her own and showing other signs of brain activity. And over the past two years, Haleigh has continued to recover at the Franciscan Hospital for Children near Boston. Apparently, she is able to communicate through a keyboard and speak some words. Haleigh is expected to testify in the criminal case pending against her stepfather, who is accused of the physical abuse responsible for her medical condition.

"While such recovery is unusual, Larry Goldstein, director of the Center for Cerebrovascular Disease at Duke University Medical Center, said there have been other reported cases of people recovering from persistent vegetative states within a few months." If correct, that may make it more difficult to base policies (like the Manitoba Guidelines) on a PVS diagnosis. While most commentators agree that a permanently unconscious patient cannot benefit from continued treatment, it is often uncertain whether any particular patient's unconsciousness if permanent.

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