"The most compelling change I've seen," Giacino noted, detailing an event that took place within the past six weeks, is that "he was able to say the first 16 words of The Pledge of Allegiance.
In addition, the man, who now receives 12 hours of therapy daily (to mimic his sleep–wake cycle), can now feed himself as well as brush his teeth and hair and drink from a glass, rather than being nourished through a feeding tube. Due to extreme atrophy (from lack of use) of his limbs, however, his motor skills are very belabored. The doctors are prepping him for so-called release of tendons surgery that should enable him to increase his upper-body strength. (It is uncertain whether he will be able to walk again.)
In an editorial accompanying the article in Nature, Michael Shadlen and Roozbeh Kiani, neurologists at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, cautioned that while this offers new hope for patients with traumatic brain injury, it will not necessarily work for everyone. They noted that this is one patient in a single trial and that not all sufferers of disruptions to consciousness will respond to thalamic stimulation. "This patient had shown clear signs of interactive behavior and preservation of many of the important cortical structures before the surgery," they wrote. "Thalamic stimulation presumably increased both the level and consistency of activity in the preserved cortical structures, leading to arousal and behavioral improvements. Such stimulation would not benefit patients who have already lost the critical cortical structures."
The team behind the new study and the heartening recovery has received Food and Drug Administration approval to perform deep-brain stimulation on 11 other minimally conscious patients, and are actively trying to locate new subjects for the treatment.