Deep Brain Stimulation has been used successfully on patients in advanced stages of Parkinson's disease and other neurological movement disorders such as tremors.
The remarkable success of this experimental surgery now offers hope for at least a partial recovery of some patients who were once unable to communicate. VOA's Melinda Smith has more on how this procedure might help.
Surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio revealed they had performed an experimental procedure called Deep Brain Stimulation on a man who had been severely injured in an assault.
For six years he had been in a minimally conscious state. Minimally conscious patients can show arousal and awareness of surroundings. Imaging showed portions of this patient's brain were still intact.
Dr. Ali Rezai of the Cleveland Clinic inserted a pacemaker in a section of the man's brain, called the thalamus. Two days later, the pacemaker was turned on and began sending electrical signals in the first test of Deep Brain Stimulation.
"The language of the brain is electricity. So by using electrical signals, we're activating the brain using its own language."
Over a period of months, the patient became more responsive and regained the ability to chew, swallow food and speak. While the family wishes to be anonymous, the mother says the results have been like a miracle. "My son can now eat. He can cry and he can laugh. I still cry every time I see my son, but it's tears of joy."
Traumatic brain injury can occur during a car crash, a fall or an act of violence. It is the leading cause of death and disability worldwide. It accounts for a large percentage of casualties among U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Iraqi citizens.
Doctors say Deep Brain Stimulation will not work for all patients with brain damage. But they also say it does offer some hope for families still searching for a way to reconnect with their loves ones.