An American marine injured during the Second World War and stuck in a deep coma ever since, has finally regained consciousness at the Naval Medical Center (NMCSD). James Hill, a 95-year old former sergeant who is decorated with two purple heart medals and a navy cross, was severely injured by the explosion of an artillery shell during the battle of Iwo Jima, on the 27th of February 1945. Doctors had been able to miraculously save his life, but the shock was so violent and the brain damage was so severe, that they thought he was condemned to remain inert for the rest of his life.
It is a controversial new treatment that was recently applied to Mr Hill, that somehow extracted him from his unconsciousness. This new approach developed by a German scientist, Professor Hans Friedritch Müller, is based on the use of various experimental drugs and repeated series of low voltage eletroshocks. This technic is still in its development phase and had been allowed to be tested only on four patients who were considered to have “very low probabilities” of recovering.
The surprising turnout of the experiment unfortunately comes many years to late to save the military hero’s marriage and family life. His wife remained loyally at his side for nine years, caring for their two children, one of which she was bearing when he was dispatched overseas and whom he never never had seen before yesterday. She finally filed for divorce and obtained it in 1954, and got remarried one year later. Her new husband legally adopted Mr. Hill’s children, since he was considered “brain dead”. Sixty years later, he now wakes up to find out his wife and son are already dead, and his unknown daughter is turning 70 years old. He however has four grandchildren and three great grandchildren, whom he has never met, a strange solace that hopefully will help him accept his situation.
The readaptation process is also expected to be extremely difficult for the old man, if not impossible. Most of his muscles have not been stimulated for years and a long program of physiotherapy will be need before Mister Hill can even move his arms normally, and he might never be able to stand or walk again. His accustomation to the wide range of new technologies that appeared during his coma should also prove very difficult if not completely impossible, considering he has never seen a computer in his life. Bringing the man to understand the world’s historical evolution since 1945 and explaining to him the context in which he has awakened, should already take a lot of time and effort, and also quite a bit of diplomacy.
According to the Guinness World Records, Mr. Hill is now the holder of many certified records, including the longest coma ever recorded and the longest coma from which anyone ever emerged. The former record for the longest coma ever was held by Elaine Esposito, dubbed the “sleeping beauty,” who stayed in a coma for 37 years and 111 days before succumbing in 1978, while the record of longest coma ever survived was held by the American Terry Wallis from the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, who on June 11, 2003, regained awareness after spending 19 years in a minimally conscious state.