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A young boy, who had previously been diagnosed as being in a “permanent vegetative state,” has awakened from a 22 month-long coma and is breathing on his own.

Devon Rivers collapsed in a seizure during a phys-ed class in 2004 and his condition was never explained, though some doctors suggested it was caused by an unknown viral infection. Doctors agreed, however, that he had little hope of recovery.

His mother, Carla Rivers, visited him regularly and, in addition to physical therapy by his pediatric nursing home to keep his limbs supple, she talked to him in the belief that coma patients can retain their hearing and some understanding. “For two years the doctors said there was no hope,” said Carla Rivers. “Everything that happens in Devon’s life is a gain. There’s no losses.”

Despite the doctors’ gloomy prognosis, eleven year-old Devon is now being prepared for occupational therapy to help him re-learn motor skills and is able to play with his siblings.

Doctors cannot explain the reason either for his unexpected awakening or for his steady recovery. In August of this year his mother noticed that he began turning his head to follow movement; instead of a blank stare, he was reacting to his environment.

Days later Devon was breathing without a respirator. Carla Rivers said, “Devon may make a full recovery or what we see today may be what we get…God’s plan is greater than ours. There’s nothing we can do to force it any sooner or hold it back,” she said.

Coma patients and others with severe cognitive disabilities have been labeled “hopeless” only to recover frequently enough that some doctors and ethicists are questioning the accuracy of the diagnosis of “persistent vegetative state” (PVS).

The diagnosis is ambiguous in that symptoms of patients can vary greatly and still be called “vegetative.”

A 1996 study published in the British Medical Journal showed that 43% of patients diagnosed with PVS do not qualify for the diagnosis; that is, they are misdiagnosed as having PVS.

In 2003, Kate Adamson, a former coma patient who had been diagnosed PVS, appeared on the television talk show the O’Reilly Factor. She said that, like Terri Schiavo, the hospital had removed her feeding tube that was only reinserted after eight days when her lawyer-husband threatened to sue the hospital.

Related: Diagnosis of Persistent Vegetative State Questioned as Former Patient Speaks Out

[10Oct06, White, OR,]