A woman from the United Arab Emirates whose apparent awakening from a 27-year-long stupor has grabbed international headlines is a rare but not unique case, one of the German doctors who treated her says.
The story of Munira Abdulla was first published by Abu Dhabi's The National newspaper on Monday. The newspaper reported that in 1991, Abdulla was with her son when a school bus collided with their car. Her son, cradled by his mother before the crash, escaped with a bruise to the head.
Abdulla was 32 at the time. That same son, himself now 32, was quoted saying his mother regained consciousness in a German hospital last year. A photo shows her in a wheelchair visiting the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, where she now resides.
Friedemann Mueller, the principal consultant at the Schoen Clinic in Bad Aibling, told German news site Spiegel Online that his patient had until recently been in a state of "minimal consciousness," during which she was able to open her eyes and briefly focus on something, such as her son's face.
Mueller, a neurological specialist, told Spiegel Online that Abdulla's vegetative state shouldn't be confused with a coma.
"No patient simply wakes up from a coma after 27 years," he was quoted as saying.
"The physical and mental state of the patient increased enormously over a period of a few weeks," he added. "She can now interact consciously with her environment and participate in family life again."
During her years in hospitals, Abdulla was tube-fed and underwent physiotherapy to prevent her muscles deteriorating. After she was transferred to Germany, Mueller said doctors took a holistic approach to her treatment: controlling her muscle contractions, changing the medication she received for epilepsy and using physiotherapy to allow her to leave her room in a wheelchair, so she could get more stimuli, such as bird song.
Mueller said the changes weren't sudden, but gradual. After a while she was able to open her mouth when asked to, then say her son's name, greet doctors and recite some verses from the Quran.
"The case is very unusual, but not unique," Spiegel Online quoted Mueller as saying. He cited a patient in West Virginia who began speaking again after 20 years.
Mueller said Abdulla's case offers hope for some patients with similar conditions, but there's no guarantee of improvement especially for people who have suffered brain damage due to lack of oxygen.