What’s the Difference Between Terri Schiavo and Terry Wallis?

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 1, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

What’s the Difference Between Terri Schiavo and Terry Wallis? Email this article
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By Terence Jeffrey
July 6, 2006

LifeNews.com Note: Terence Jeffrey is the editor of Human Events, a conservative newsweekly.

On a July evening 22 years ago, 20-year-old Terry Wallis climbed into a pickup truck with two friends and rode off down a rural Arkansas highway. He never came back — or, more precisely, he never came back the same.

The truck went off a bridge.

One of Wallis’ friends was uninjured; the other died. Wallis barely made it. First, he was in a coma, then in what doctors called a "vegetative state," and then in what they called a "minimally conscious state."

He was paralyzed from the neck down and couldn’t talk.

His parents assumed legal guardianship from his wife, made sure he was cared for at a rehabilitation center and brought him home for regular visits. Then on July 11, 2003, when Mrs. Wallis went to see her son, as the Chicago Tribune reported it then, Terry spoke his first word in 19 years: "Mom." Soon, he was able to converse.

"There is nothing I know of to explain scientifically what happened," Terry’s doctor, James Zini, told USA Today. "I think it was a miracle."

Understandably, a group of medical researchers decided to seek a natural explanation. They did two sets of scans of Terry’s brain 18 months apart, and compared these to scans from healthy people, and from another man who had suffered a similar injury six years ago, but had not recovered. They published their findings this week in the Journal of Clinical Investigation (JCI). Their conclusion: "We propose that axonal regrowth may underlie these findings and provide biological mechanisms for late recovery."

In other words, they believe Terry’s brain is repairing itself.

Since this revelation, some media reports have cited doctors keen to draw a distinction between Wallis and Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman whose deliberate killing by dehydration last year ought not to have been allowed, even if she had had no hope of recovery. Nonetheless, these reports suggest that Schiavo could not have experienced a recovery like Wallis did, because her brain injury was more severe.

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