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November 23rd, 2009
07:15 PM ET

Evening Buzz: Awake for 23 Years, Not in a 'Coma'

Maureen Miller
AC360° Writer

Imagine for 23 years, being trapped in a paralyzed body with no way to talk with your family and friends, who think you are in coma and then a persistent vegetative state. However, you can hear everything. You hear the doctors and nurses at your bedside. You also hear your family when they visit. You can feel their touch, but you can't talk. You can't let them know you love them. You can't even weep over your father's death when you're told the awful news.

That was the reality and nightmare for Rom Houben, now 46.

He was forced into a world of silence after a car accident in 1983.

Tonight, 360° M.D. Sanjay Gupta, who's a neurosurgeon, has the facts on this startling case. It seems to be more common that many people think.

Also tonight, we're Keeping them Honest on Capitol Hill.  Could the recommendations from a government health panel that most women wait until the age of 50 to get mammograms  find their way into law?

Just last week you may recall Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius spoke about the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a 16-member panel assembled by the agency, which made the recommendation.

"They do not set federal policy and they don't determine what services are covered by the federal government," Sebelius said.

"Keep doing what you have been doing for years - talk to your doctor about your individual history, ask questions, and make the decision that is right for you," she added.

But will the panel actually get to set federal policy, after all? We'll show you what we uncovered tonight on 360°.

We've have a remarkable panel of women who will be on the program tonight to weigh in on the debate over health care. You'll hear from Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, who's slamming the mammogram guidelines. She's a breast cancer survivor and wonders if she'd be alive today if she followed those recommendations. Feminist pioneer Gloria Steinem, who's also a cancer survivor,  and  Dr. Bernadine Healy, the former head of the National Institutes of Health, will  also be on 360°.

Join us for these stories and much more starting at 10 p.m. ET. See you then!


Filed under: Maureen Miller • The Buzz
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Lauren in Florida

    I was really impressed by AC360 tonight. They cut to the human side of the issue that has universal ramifications, pushing past the fog of political war that follows these topics. Under Florida statues, an uninformed, confused, selfish, exhausted, or malicious spouse or family member could have starved this Rom Hueben to death. I would like to point out to Dr. Gupta that Terri Schiavo's husband warehoused her in a hospice for years and years, and hospices do not generally emphasize curative treatments, aggressive testing, rexamination of the facts (nor do courts)–the verdict of hospice is usually that the person has already decided to forego such options and is in hospice for pain management. Terri's husband refused to allow her to get her teeth cleaned; much less did he pursue aggressive rehab or testing. Her family wanted to care for her the way this man's family cared for him.
    Florida law should not rely on the goodwill of citizens to prevent me from being starved to death should I become incompacitated. Our laws should protect people from possible abuses or even misdiagnoses. When in doubt, leave starvation out.

    November 24, 2009 at 2:47 am |
  2. Annie Kate

    Being in what might appear to be a coma or a persistent vegetative state would be terrible and frightening. Imagine how easily the family thinking you are gone could make a decision that would kill you and never know that you were really there. I am looking forward to Dr. Gupta's talk on this – I hope medical science has some way to tell when this occurs but from your write-up it doesn't sound like they do.

    November 23, 2009 at 9:24 pm |