Stock photo: A PET scan machine being operated at Georgetown University Hospital in 2015.
Photo: Evan Vucci (AP)

A woman from the United Arab Emirates, Munira Abdulla, has reportedly regained a degree awareness and function after spending an astonishing 27 years in a state of reduced consciousness—popularly known as a coma.

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Per the New York Times, Abdulla was involved in a serious automotive accident in 1991 (reported by Abu Dhabi publication the National to be a collision with a school bus), suffering traumatic brain injury and spending most of the next three decades in a state of “minimal consciousness.” In 2017, she was moved to a clinic in Germany where she received physiotherapy to deter muscular deterioration and medication to treat epilepsy.

Signs she was recovering began to emerge in the past year, the Times wrote, with Schön Clinic chief physician Dr. Friedemann Müller saying that it is possible a device that delivered medication into her spine triggered the recovery:

Signs that Ms. Abdulla was recovering started to emerge last year when she began saying her son’s name. A couple of weeks later, she started repeating verses from the Quran that she had learned decades ago.

“We didn’t believe it at first,” Dr. Müller said. “But eventually it became very clear that she was saying her son’s name.”

Dr. MĂĽller said he had not expected such a recovery from Ms. Abdulla.

She had been at the German clinic for treatment for seizures and contorted muscles that made her body hard to handle and that kept her from being able to sit in a wheelchair safely. Part of the treatment was to install a device that delivered medication directly into her spine, a factor that Dr. MĂĽller said could have brought on her recovery.

It’s not entirely clear how much of a recovery Abdulla is expected to make. However, according to the National report, her 32-year-old son Omar Weibar said she seemed to gain awareness of people surrounding her last June, and days later began saying names. Over time, she began being able to tell medical staff where she was feeling pain, have conversations “if she is interested in the topic,” and recite prayers, Weibar told the National.

The National reported that during a recent hospital visit, Abdulla was “able to answer questions, albeit with difficulty,” and recite verses from the Qur’an.

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MĂĽller told Der Spiegel in an interview that no one simply wakes up from a coma after such a lengthy period of time, and that what really occurs is more of a long-term process. According to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, as of now Abdulla still has serious disabilities and is using a wheelchair.

As the New York Times noted, recoveries from minimally conscious states as severe as the one Abdulla was in are extremely rare, with “only a handful” reported. Another famous case involved Terry Wallis, a 19-year-old Massachusetts man tossed from a pickup truck in 1984. He began to speak in 2003, with medical researchers eventually concluding that his brain had “very gradually, developed new pathways and completely novel anatomical structures to re-establish functional connections, compensating for the brain pathways lost in the accident,” New Scientist reported.

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[New York Times/The National/Der Spiegel]