A man who began speaking again after two years in a coma says that he had heard and understood everything going on around him. Salvatore Crisafulli, 38, has had great difficulty in speaking since recovering, but, asked if he could remember the past two years, he replied “yes” and wept. In true Italian style, his mother told reporters that his first word had been “Mamma”.
The recovery is being hailed as a miracle in his home city of Catania in Sicily, and came to light on the day Italy’s bioethics committee was voting on whether to feed patients in a persistent vegetative state.
The committee backed a motion, supported by rightwing government parties, that ruled against suspending feeding. “To feed an unconscious patient through a tube is not a medical act,” said the committee’s president, Francesco D’Agostino. “It’s like giving a bottle to a newborn baby who can’t be nursed by its mother.” Earlier this week a Vatican bishops’ synod reiterated the Catholic view that everything possible should be done to keep patients alive.
In October 2003, Mr Crisafulli’s scooter collided with a van, injuring his head. With remarkable determination, his brother, Pietro, in January 2004 had him moved to Montecatini Terme in Tuscany where he lives. For more than a year he looked after him unassisted. Last May, after several failed attempts to get his brother admitted elsewhere, Pietro threatened publicly to “pull the plug” unless the authorities agreed to let his brother enter a hospital in Arezzo in Tuscany. It was there, Pietro said, doctors first began to acknowledge Salvatore might be conscious despite the apparent coma.
“My brother speaks and remembers. I don’t expect that he will be the way he was, but it is already a miracle,” Pietro was quoted as saying. “And to think that some doctors said that it was all useless, and he would be dead in three or four months.”
Salvatore first appeared to recover consciousness three months ago, but began speaking only recently. Pietro called it “an Italian Terri Schiavo case”, though the two are strictly not comparable. Ms Schiavo, a brain-damaged Florida woman, died in March after her feeding tube was removed. However, she was in a persistent vegetative state, a medical condition that differs from a coma. The Catholic church backed demands for her to be fed despite the wishes of her husband. Pope John Paul II died two days after she did, and the Vatican compared the US state court to an “executioner” for ordering her tube removed.
Coma issues are of keen interest in Italy, not only because of Catholicism, but also because of the high rate of road accidents, particularly scooters; some 20,000 people enter some form of coma each year, and 1,500 are currently in a vegetative state.