Terry Wallis, who spontaneously regained his ability to speak after a traumatic brain injury that left him virtually unresponsive for 19 years, and who later became the subject of a major study that showed that a damaged brain he could heal himself, he died on March 29 in a rehab. installation in Searcy, Ark. He was 57 years old.
He had pneumonia and heart problems, said his brother George Wallis, who confirmed his death.
Terry Wallis was 19 when the van with two friends skidded off a small bridge in the Ozark Mountains in northern Arkansas and landed upside down on a dry river bed. The accident left him in a coma for a short time, then in a persistent vegetative state for several months. A friend died; the other recovered.
Until 2003, Mr. Wallis was lying in a nursing home in a state of minimal consciousness, capable of tracing objects with his eyes or blinking in order.
But on June 11, 2003, she was effectively back in the world when, on seeing her mother, Angilee, she suddenly said, “Mother.” Seeing the woman who told him it was his adult daughter, Amber, who was six weeks old at the time of the accident, said, “You’re beautiful,” and told him he loved her.
“In a three-day period, from ‘mother’ and ‘Pepsi’, he had regained verbal fluency,” said Dr. Nicholas Schiff, a professor of neurology and neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medicine in Manhattan who led studies of image of Mr. Wallis’ brain. The findings were presented in 2006 in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.
“I was disoriented,” Dr. Schiff said in a telephone interview about Mr. Schiff’s appearance. Wallis. “I thought it was still 1984, but otherwise I knew all the people in my family and I had that fluency.”
The brain scans of Mr. Wallis, the first of a patient to recover late, revealed changes in the strength of the apparent connections in the back of the brain, which are believed to have helped his conscious consciousness, and the midline of the cerebellum. an area involved. in motor control, which may have explained the very limited movement of his arms and legs while he was minimally conscious.
To Mr. Wallis, who regained some more movement after waking up, was diagnosed with severe quadriparesis, characterized by muscle weakness in the limbs.
“It’s a unicorn in the sense that it came up so late,” Dr. Schiff said. But he added, “We’ll never know exactly why it came up after 19 years.”
Mr.’s family Wallis believes that regular home visits while he was minimally conscious had an impact. “We believe this helped her to wake up,” said her brother George.
The recovery of Mr. Wallis died almost two years before the death of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who had suffered severe brain damage and fell into a persistent vegetative state when her heart stopped beating in 1990. had been withdrawn after a bitter national debate. on patients’ rights.
Terry Wayne Wallis was born on April 4, 1964 in Marianna, Ark. His father, Jerry, was a mechanic and farmer. Her mother, Angilee (Marshall) Wallis, worked in a shirt factory.
At the time of his accident, Mr Wallis was working as a car mechanic and, according to his brother, was “a little wild and lived on the edge, doing what he could to enjoy life”.
After Terry woke up in 2003, his father said in an interview, “He liked to flirt with nurses and could move his arms and legs but couldn’t get up.”
He added: “He could talk to us, but it was as if time had stopped for him. He remembered people from the moment he was shipwrecked.”
George Wallis recalled an incident eight years ago when he took his wife, Lindsey, to visit his brother, who had been recovering for more than a decade.
“My wife is a little younger than me and my mom said,‘ Terry, do you know who she is? This is Lindsey. She’s George’s wife, ‘said Wallis. “And Terry said, ‘She’s too pretty and too big for him.’ He thought she was still 12.”
Until he was transferred to a rehabilitation center eight months ago, Mr. Wallis spent most of the last 19 years living in his parents’ home, cared for by family members, including his daughter and mother. die in 2018. it was the tail, “said his brother George,” the absolute savior. “
In addition to his brother George, his daughter and his father, Mr. Wallis is survived by another brother, Perry; a sister, Tammy Baze; and three grandchildren. Her marriage to Sandi Wallis ended in divorce.
Dr. Schiff said that Mr. Wallis and other patients “are still teaching us” about the brain’s potential to cope with trauma.
“I believe Terry’s legacy in neuroscience at the highest level,” he said, “is to instill our enduring, undiluted, and deep interest in understanding how human consciousness can be recovered after a serious brain injury.”