By Peter J. Smith Terry WallisMountain View, Arkansas, July 4, 2006 ( – On Monday The Journal of Clinical Investigation published new research on the recovery of a brain damaged man from his 19 years in a minimally conscious state, adding to the growing evidence that those with “hopelessly” severe brain injuries may be able to recuperate with therapy or other kinds of assistance.

The Journal’s research focuses on the sudden recovery of Terry Wallis, who experienced a car wreck in 1984 when he was 19 years old. The accident sheared the nerve connections in his brain, putting him in a minimally conscious state (MCS) and rendering him a quadriplegic. Terry, a young husband with a newborn child, was considered a hopeless case, especially considering that his family could not pay the $120,000 needed to consult a neurologist about any possibility of recovery. However in 2003, during one of the regular visits of his mother, who had regularly visited him at the Rehabilitation Centre in Mountain View, Arkansas, he made what seemed a sudden recovery, and spoke “mom”, his first word in 19 years.

The research indicates that Terry’s brain grew new tiny nerve connections over time, creating a new nerve network to replace the old one that was severely damaged in the car accident. While doctors and neurologists are still baffled as to ‘why’ Terry recovered, the doctors at the rehabilitation centre have indicated that Terry’s recovery might be attributed to the visits of his family, who took him out on weekends and special occasions. This may have acted as a mental therapy to help his brain recover.

“He now seems exactly like his old self,” says Jerry Wallis, Terry’s father. Over the 19 years of Terry’s coma, both Jerry and his mother Angilee had doubts at some time or another about whether or not it was better for Terry to be alive. However, now both are glad they never caved into those doubts. Since then they have seen their son make strides in his recovery with the ambition of walking for his daughter. “He very often tells us how glad he is to be alive,” says Terry’s father.

Terry Wallis’ remarkable recovery after 19 years, however, stands in stark opposition to the case of Terri Schindler-Schiavo, who received no therapy from her philandering husband after her 1990 collapse. She was instead dehydrated to death by court order in March 2005. Although some doctors claim that Terri Schiavo could not have made Terry Wallis’ recovery since she was in a persistent vegetative state (PVS), witnesses such as former nurse Carla Iyer maintained that with therapy, Schiavo, who said words like “mommy, help me”, could have indeed recovered over time.

New research on the ability of the brain to recover over time questions the hastiness of many in the medical profession to condemn patients as irreversibly brain-dead or damaged. Back in May, South African researchers discovered a drug that helps PVS patients temporarily recover to a fully conscious state. In a BBC interview Dr. Ralf Clauss, a scientist in nuclear medicine and one of the drug researchers, stated that “For every damaged area of the brain, there is a dormant area, which seems to be a sort of protective mechanism. The damaged tissue is dead, there’s nothing you can do,” he explained. “But it’s the dormant areas which ‘wake up’.”