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

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

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