April 26, 2019

This woman was in a coma for 27 years. Then she woke up.

Daily Briefing
    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on June 15, 2021.

    In 1991, Munira Abdulla was in a car accident in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that left her in a coma—and in June 2018, 27 years later, Abdulla woke up.

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    A 27-year coma

    After the accident, Abdulla was sent from a hospital in UAE to another hospital in London, where doctors determined she was in a minimally conscious state. She was moved back to a hospital in the UAE for the next few years. During that time, she was placed on a feeding tube and underwent physiotherapy to prevent her muscles from deteriorating.

    More than two decades after the accident, in April 2017, the Crown Prince Court gave Abdulla's family a grant for a comprehensive multidisciplinary program at the Schön Clinic in Germany. According to The National, the goal of the treatment was to keep Abdulla comfortable and improve her quality of life, not necessarily to help her regain consciousness.

    Ahmad Ryll, Abdulla's neurologist in Germany, explained, "Our primary goal was to grant her fragile consciousness the opportunity to develop and prosper in a healthy body, like a delicate plant that needs good soil to grow."

    To provide that care, the clinic administered treatment for seizures and contorted muscles, including the installation of a device that delivered medication directly into her spine, which Friedemann Müller, the chief physician at clinic, believes may have helped her recovery.

    'We didn't believe it at first'

    Then, in June, Abdulla unexpectedly woke up. According to her son, Omar Webair, Webair had gotten into an argument next to her bedside when she began to move. "She was making strange sounds and I kept calling the doctors to examine her," he said. "They said everything was normal."

    Three days later, Webair, who just 4 years old when the accident happened, said, he heard someone calling his name. "It was her. She was calling my name," he said. "I was flying with joy. For years I have dreamt of this moment, and my name was the first word she said."

    According to Webair, Abdulla woke up and called the names of her siblings "and everybody who she expected to be around her." He added, "When she was screaming it was like she was reliving the accident and then woke up."

    Müller said he and his team were surprised. "We didn't believe it at first," he said. "But eventually it became very clear that she was saying her son's name." Müller said there's only been a handful of recorded cases in which coma patients wake up after so long a period.

    Abdulla eventually became more responsive, The National reports. "Now she can tell us where she is feeling pain, and I can have conversations with her if she is interested in the topic," Webair said.

    Abdulla has since returned to the UAE and is being treated at Mafraq Hospital in Abu Dhabi. A report from the hospital last month stated Abdulla is "able to communicate in a very reasonable manner, especially in familiar situations."

    Webair said "I never gave up on her, because I always had a feeling that one day she will wake up," Webair said (Karasz/Schuetze, New York Times, 4/24; Dajani, The National, 4/22).

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