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Sleeping Drug Broke Man’s 3-Year Coma

A 28-year-old South African man who has been comatose since an accident three years ago is able to wake up with the unlikely help of a sleeping medication…

Louis Viljoen was hit by a truck on a highway in 2003, and has been in a persistent vegetative state since with massive head injuries.

The Daily Mirror reported he recently became restless, and Dr. Wally Nel prescribed the common drug Zolpidem to calm him down. Instead, Viljoen’s eyes fluttered and he awoke. The report said his brain function is improving slowly, and he is given half a dose of Zolpiden in the morning and again at noon to keep him awake for eight hours a day before he lapses back into a coma.

Nel said Viljoen talks and recognizes friends, but doesn’t understand why he is hospitalized. In July, the British firm ReGen Therapeutics will begin six months of clinical trials on 30 coma patients to see if the drug works on them too, the Mirror said. [, N Valko RN, 2 June06]


Sleeping Pill Awakens ‘PVS’ Patients

As reported earlier, a South African man thought to be in PVS for 3 years, was prescribed a sleeping pill to calm him down.

Within 25 minutes of receiving the pill, the man awoke and began talking.

Louis’ case was one of 3 such cases reported in the May 2006 issue of the medical journal NeuroRehabilitation.

All 3 cases involved males around age 30 who had been in ‘PVS’ at least 3 years. All were given daily doses of Zolpidem (brand name Ambien) twice each day, to keep them conscious for about 8 hours. Their responses were monitored for 3-6 years.

Researchers found no long-term side effects and concluded, “Zolpidem appears an effective drug to restore brain function to some patients in the PVS”.

The Glasgow Coma Scale and Rancho Los Amigos Cognitive test scores for all 3 men improved with the drug’s use.

South African physician Dr. Nel [co-author of the study]: “There is a lot of research to be done before we can start using this drug on others, but now we have something we can work on…When you think about how many life-support machines have been switched off over the years, it makes you wonder.”

The British company ReGen Therapeutics plans to begin clinical trials to further test Zolpidem on 30 coma patients in July. [NeuroRehabilitation, 31May06, pp 23-28; UPI, 1June06; ITF Update, 2006, vol. 20, no. 3]