Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Man Trapped in His Own Body for Decades

Rom Houben is the victim of a horrific car crash that, since 1983, has left Houben completely paralyzed. Doctors described the man to be in a “vegetative state” until in 2006, then a brain examination revealed a high level of neurological activity. Soon thereafter doctors explained how Houben has experienced “locked-in-syndrome” where his functional brain has been literally trapped in a completely dysfunctional body for twenty three years before the truth was discovered. Many doctors believe that Houben was probably initially in comatose then slowly regained mental function. Houben, however, seems to say otherwise. He has described, in detail, decades of being completely aware of his surroundings, yet not being able to signal to anyone in any way that he was conscious.

Then comes the million dollar question; How did Houben finally tell his story without the ability to move in any way?

And that is where the story begins to fall apart. Houben told his story by looking at a keyboard and then someone would type the letter he was looking at. Videos show, though, that often times the typist would continue writing even when Houben was not looking at the keyboard. Scientists are quickly pointing out flaws in this unlikely story. The distinction between who is actually communicating, the typist or Houben, is unclear. To add to the skepticism, numerous cases like this have been reported for numerous years, all of which have been largely discredited.

I remain unrealistically optimistic about this story. Though it is clear that evidence is weak and the story appears to be too good to be true, I can only hope that Houben really is the mind behind the commentary. After all, I would not want to make the mistake of believing that Houbel is brain dead for over twenty years, and then potentially claim his words are just part of a big hoax.

Posted by Matt Grazewski (10)


  1. That is a pretty scary story. If these "locked in syndrome" cases are real, that would be very interesting. To imagine you have full conscious thought for decades with the inability to express anything is a very strange thought. More research should go into this Houbel case. How did the typist communicate which letter he wanted on the key board if he was completely nonfunctional? If this is indeed a hoax that would be a pretty big step backwards in determining what is actually occurring with people in vegetative states. It would just increase skepticism and blur the real science behind the issue.

    Patrick Salome

  2. This seems to be the worst case of a person being ignored. This story is also skeptical since we are not sure how trusting the typist claims to be. Either way, this story is quite attracting to readers and it is also great to know that this man is actually still alive.

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  4. My first instinct when reading this is to be skeptical. I don't quite understand how merely look at a keyboard can relay what a person is trying to say. Obviously, more information is needed to pass judgment.

    I do know about cases where people suffering from different forms of paralysis have been able to communicate by means if minor facial expressions. This is the case with Stephen Hawking, who uses gestures with his mouth to indicate what he wants. He has a graduate student who guesses what Hawking is trying to say, and then Hawking indicates if it is correct.

    Do you know if this process has been repeated with more than one interpreter? If so, it may lend more credibility to the story.

    Posted by Andrew King

  5. I agree with you. I feel like cases like this would very hard to back it up. If it was true, it would be devastating. If someone really lied down for 22 years without being able to communicate with anyone else, I wonder how dull his mind became

    POSTED BY minwoo Ji

  6. This is a very interresting story. I was wondering how he was able to tell his story too, and I was going to post that question but you answered it in your blog. Its still kind of hard to understand how they got answers from the guy using a computer screen. There deffinetely could be some flaws in having a typist write down things. But for them to completely throw away the idea that the guy could have a functional brain is hard to understand too because the activiation in his brain must mean something. I would really like to know more about this story.

    Posted by Kayla Perry

  7. This story grabbed my attention. I wasn't aware that a condition like this may even exist. Although the way this story was relayed I do find it hard to believe that looking a a computer screen was an accurate way to portray the story. I do feel like a condition like this could exist, it's like an extreme handicap. It's scary to think that someone could be completely aware of their surroundings and not be able to communicate.
    -Valerie Silva-

  8. Thanks for all the comments! I hope you all genuinely found this article as interesting as I did. These type of mystery science stories are always thought provoking.

    Posted by Matt Grazewski

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