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Woman Recovers Speech After 20 Years of Silence


A 38-year-old Kansas woman is talking again after 20 years of silence. Paralyzed and speechless after being struck by a drunk driver, Sarah Scantlin surprised her parents on February 4 with a phone call from Golden Plains, the nursing center she has called home since 1984.

Jim Scantlin says he knew when his wife started talking on the phone that day, that it wasn't another routine call from Sarah's caregivers. "The conversation wasn't making a great deal of sense," the 66-year old Kansas man recalled. "I bolted out of my chair and said, 'Am I going crazy? Instead of talking about Sarah, it sounds like you're talking to Sarah.'"

Betsy Scantlin confirmed that she was indeed talking to their daughter, who had not spoken to them since September 22, 1984. That was the day she was hit by a drunk driver while walking to her car. Jim Scantlin says he and his wife never expected to hear Sarah talk again after the grim prognosis the doctor gave them 20 years ago. "He regretfully informed us," Mr. Scantlin recalled, "'Your daughter will survive physically, however the daughter you knew has been destroyed.'"

Sarah Scantlin was hit by a drunk driver when she was walking to her car twenty years ago. The damage to her brain left her immobile and speechless. Unable to swallow, she must be fed through a tube that connects directly to her stomach. Although she was initially in a coma for one week, Sarah has been minimally conscious for several years now, aware of her surroundings and able to communicate by blinking her eyes. Nevertheless, she has a limited understanding of how much time has passed since she was injured. When asked by her brother Jim how old she was, Ms. Scantlin guessed 21 or 22.

Sarah does recall the names and faces of her family and friends and even remembers that she was hit by a car. While her parents have been hesitant to ask her more probing questions right now, her father said a friend did ask her, "Are you basically glad you are here?" Her reponse: "Yes, I wanted to talk to my loved ones."

Just why Sarah started talking after 20 years of silence is a mystery to her doctor. Although he is unfamiliar with the specifics of Sarah's case, Dr. Jordan Grafman, with the National Institute of Neurological Disorders, said it is rare for a patient with severe brain injury to show such dramatic progress after so many years. "It's one in a million," the medical researcher said. "Most dramatic recovery occurs in the first three months, and after about two years you rarely see anything dramatic."

As for Sarah's future, no one knows what her prognosis is, but that doesn't concern her family. They are taking it one day at a time and enjoying hearing the voice they thought had been silenced forever.

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