Neurologist Dr. Jonathan Fellus and neuroscientist Dr. Phil DeFina of International Brain Research Foundation, a non-profit which treats coma patients, joined John B. Wells to discuss their work helping people awaken from deep comas as well as the controversial case of 13-year-old Jahi McMath, who has been declared brain dead by her treating hospital after complications from a tonsillectomy.
There are more cells related to brain function than grains of sand on a beach or stars in the galaxy, DeFina revealed, noting that the brain is capable of reorganizing and overcoming major damage to multiple parts of this incredibly complex system. Fellus detailed various brain states, including minimally and reliably conscious states and brain death, when the brain no longer supports the basic functioning of the body. He pointed out that a person in a coma has closed eyes and no detectable awareness of self or environment. After the eyes open, usually within four to five weeks, the patient has entered a vegetative state, Fellus explained, adding that there are periods of wakefulness and sleep within this state but no awareness.
According to DeFina, between 35 to 50 percent of such patients are diagnosed incorrectly and without proper diagnosis and strategic intervention there is little hope for them to recover. "We've worked with over a hundred people and had a tremendous success rate in improving or recovering individuals who were not recoverable and were told could never improve," he said. After a patient has been assessed diagnostically the goal is to normalize as much as possible each damaged neuro-marker so the brain can reorganize itself and gain functioning on its own once again, Fellus added. DeFina announced that their protocol for treating persistent vegetative state has received FDA approval. The two also disclosed that the parents of Jahi McMath have consulted with them about their daughter and are interested in pursuing what they have done in similar cases.