Man in 'Coma' Was Conscious While Doctors Debated Pulling the Plug

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pligIn stuff that only seems possible in nightmares, one man was conscious in a vegetative state for months while his doctors debated whether or not to pull him off life support. Richard Marsh suffered a massive stroke in 2009, which left him unable to control his body, yet left him fully cognizant of his surroundings.

Marsh, 60, suffered from the rare “locked-in syndrome,” which is exactly as it sounds: When a patient is locked inside his or her body, unable to communicate with the outside world. Marsh, a former police officer and teacher, was fully aware when doctors debated at the foot of his bed whether or not to take him off of life support. Then, four months and nine days after his debilitating stroke, Marsh walked out of the hospital on his own.

He has since made a 95 percent recovery.

Marsh tearfully remembers the faithfulness of his wife Lili as she refused to unplug the machines keeping him alive. Doctors had informed her that he had a 2 percent chance of survival, and even then, he’d be a vegetable. 

“One day they talked to my wife about ending life support,” Marsh recounts in an online video before choking up. “That was, um, that was probably the scariest ... of course she said no,” he said before simultaneously wiping his tears and giggling with apparent love for Lili.

Richard Marsh has made an almost complete recovery since his ordeal. He exercises daily, cooks dinner for his family, and even recently bought a bike to ride through the Napa Valley, California, hills where he resides. It’s hard to believe that three years ago, there was a serious debate as to whether or not to “let nature take its course” by turning off the machines sustaining his body -- the body his mind was trapped within.

Locked-in syndrome is the scariest thing I’ve heard of in a while. It affects 1 percent of stroke-sufferers, and there is no known treatment or cure. I can imagine that the most painful part of the disease isn’t the physical suffering that may be endured, but the possibility of screaming in your mind that you’re still alive while your loved ones make the decision to pull the plug.  

Thank you, Richard Marsh, for sharing your story. I know it must be painful, but it is a joy to hear about your journey and see you living each day as fully as you can.


Image via Samuel M. Livingston/Fickr

death, health care, human rights, technology


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Scorp... ScorpioDee

As touching as this story is... how many people are on life support that are already gone and just kept alive by machines? And how long do they have to be like that until somebody decides to put an end to the suffering? If I read stuff like this I think it will keep more people from 'pulling the plug' on patients in a vegetative state. This whole story sounds pretty unbelievable, because if there is brain activity they can see it, right? Any doctors here?

nonmember avatar Guest

This scares the poop outta me. Ugh! Just thinking about it....

EmmaF... EmmaFromEire

It's worth remembering this is the extreme minority, not the nom.  And ScorpioDee you're quite right. This is why this case is so rare, normally brain activity can be detected. Which also presents difficulty when family members see bodily reflexes in patients and think that they're voluntary activities. 

Nicol... NicoleMarie1211

Why is "let nature take its course" in quotes? Being kept alive by machines isn't the natural option.

teal.... teal.blaze

@NicoleMarie, the phrase is relating to unplugging the machines. That means that nature will take it's course as soon as he's unplugged.

Mama2... Mama2JoshKatie

I would think they could tell people with this condition apart from people who are truly gone by measuring brain activity. Wouldn't the brain waves detect changes in response to certain stimuli such as the sound of their loved ones voices or even fear of pulling the plug? Just a thought, I'm not an expert on the subject. That is the scariest thing I can think of happening to a person though.

pdoty31 pdoty31

18 yr ago i was on life support and my family was told i was in a vegetable state and  they also said I had know brain activity and boy where they wrong im so thankful my family left me on it and didn't do as the Dr. said!! 

jodie... jodieharp

I bet his wife could see it in his eyes.  The eyes say everything.  This is an amazing story!  

nonmember avatar Loyal Viewer

Have none of you seen House? One episode featured a guy who had Locked-in Syndrome. even House couldnt figure it out until later (yes I know it is just a tv show, but it does for the most part accurately portray real life medical conditions. I have a rare condition that was featured on the show along with 2 other family members, and each was shown properly).

EmmaF... EmmaFromEire're right. seeing all those episodes of house is totally the same as getting my college degree.

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