Skip to content

Brain & Nervous System Health Center

Font Size

Progress for Man Who Spoke After 10-Year Coma

Doctor Says Brain-Injured Firefighter Is Responsive but His Condition May Fluctuate

'Someone Wants to Talk to You'

Later that day, Jim Scantlin was surprised to see his wife show up at his office. He hadn't yet heard about Sarah Scantlin phoning home. "There was a conference call going on, and my wife said, 'Someone wants to talk to you.' I couldn't make out what was going on. Beth grabbed my arm and said, 'It's Sarah.' I said, 'Sarah?' and she said hello."

"Pretty much everything after that was a blur. She counted and said she's doing fine and that she missed me and loved me. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry or what. My whole body went numb," says Jim Scantlin.

Since then, Sarah Scantlin has told people she knew about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Oklahoma City bombing, says Scantlin. Those events happened while she was in the minimally conscious state.

Sarah's Current Condition

Today, Sarah Scantlin is at the University of Kansas Medical Center and is doing "remarkably well," says Jim Scantlin. Sarah Scantlin has had three surgeries in five weeks. "Her feet, hands, and arms all atrophied, so they're getting her in a position where she can use them again," says Jim Scantlin.

He says she's been "real quiet" the last couple of times they've talked. "I think it hurts more than she says it hurts," he says, referring to Sarah Scantlin's recovery from her recent surgeries.

"She's certainly not the Sarah she was. That person's gone in 20 years," says Jim Scantlin, saying Sarah Scantlin can now eat regular food again and can stand up when supported by a device. "She can only stand for 15-20 minutes. It's a lot of work for her," he says, saying she has to relearn skills that many healthy adults take for granted.

Sarah Scantlin's progress took Jim Scantlin by surprise.

"I probably gave up hope a long time ago," he says. "Your defense mechanism is, 'She is the person she is and that's just what there is. Me wishing she was better all the time is just going to drive everyone crazy.'"

He says when Sarah Scantlin first left the hospital to go to a nursing home in 1984, doctors said she might last 10-12 years. But he says the nursing home took "great care of her" and that she'd always been "relatively healthy the whole time."

'It's Hard Stuff'

He calls Sarah Scantlin's speaking a miracle. "It took me probably three weeks to be able to say that. ... I looked up 'miracle' and it said something about an event unexplainable by the laws of nature usually attributed [to] God. Well, I can accept that," he says.

That doesn't make it easy. "It's hard stuff," he says. "I was thinking that there are plenty of people in accidents who wake up where Sarah's at right now and everybody's really upset and distraught that their whole life is gone. On the flip side, Sarah is in the same state and how joyful we are."

Today on WebMD

nerve damage
Learn how this disease affects the nervous system.
senior woman with lost expression
Know the early warning signs.
Close up of eye
12 culprits that affect your ability to focus.
medical marijuana plant
What is it used for?
senior man
brain research briefing
Vaccine and needle
mans hands on laptop keyboard
brain illustration stroke
most common stroke symptoms
Parkinsons Disease Medications