NRL News

Dylan Rizzo’s recovery further evidence a “vegetative state may not be as persistent as it was once thought”

by | May 16, 2016

By Dave Andrusko

Dylan Rizzo

Dylan Rizzo

Even in an era of seemingly endless media sources, when an item appears on one of the networks, it has traction. Take CBS Sunday Morning.

Correspondent Lee Cowan does a terrific job in telling the more- common-than-we-think story, in this case of Dylan Rizzo, who was involved in a devastating car crash in 2011 when he was 19.

Rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, “Within an hour neurosurgeons had removed the left side of his skull and part of the right to make room for his brain to swell,” Cowan explained.

Not unexpectedly he slipped into a deep coma. When he did awake he “had transitioned into what’s called a vegetative state,” where his eyes were open but he was unaware (or seemed unaware) of his surroundings.

Spoiler alert. Five years later Dylan has made tremendous progress in his recovery. But what makes the story so powerful is the larger lesson his recovery illustrates.

Let’s go back to 2011. Dylan didn’t make much progress in the month after he had awakened.

“Doctors broke the news to his parents that unless he came out of it soon, Dylan would likely stay in that vegetative state for life,” Cowen explained. More than one patient has had his or her organs harvested when that artificial–and unrealistic–deadline is met.

Then the all-important transition:

But one man, Joseph Giacino — not a medical doctor, but a researcher brought in to study the case — thought that Dylan’s brain might just need more time.

“We were sort of lumping everyone into this vegetative state category.”

Exactly. As we have written so often in NRL News Today, there is (what Cowan described as) “a growing number of experts warning of what he calls a ‘rush to judgment’ in cases of consciousness.

Ciacino, a neuro-psychologist at Boston’s Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, is one of that growing number of skeptics.

“As many as 40% of individuals who have been diagnosed with vegetative state, actually retain some conscious awareness,” he said. “That’s a fairly alarming number.”

Ciacino dispatched at least one enduring myth in his conversation with Cowan. “The adage was, the brain is not a muscle, so you know, just simply exercising it is not going to help it,” he said. “Now, there’s evidence that if you do rehearsal of a particular behavior, including in a damaged brain, it may well get better.”

The bulk of the remainder of 9-minute video is a testimony to Dylan’s family, his doctors, his therapists, and Dylan himself. They pushed Dylan and Dylan responded.

Cowan ends his delightful story with additional evidence of Dylan’s optimism:

His amazing journey has surprised everyone — his friends, his family, and his doctors. The only person NOT surprised by it all is Dylan Rizzo himself.

Cowan asked, “You sort of knew that you were going to get better, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, it was guarantee-able,” Dylan replied. “I’m going to be better, that’s it. Just keep going. That’s what I always say, just keep going, that’s it.”

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Categories: National News