Family Experiences of Vegetative and Minimally Conscious States

Verity

Female

Brief outline: In 2005, at the age of 17, Verity’s son was involved in a near fatal car accident that caused him severe traumatic head injuries. After a long period of unconsciousness he eventually showed signs of awareness but his prognosis was not good. Nine years after the accident her son is still alive, “living a life without dignity”.

Background: mother of 3 sons, worked as a successful business woman, now unemployed due to ill health.

Audio & video

In 2005, Verity’s seventeen-year old son was severely brain injured after the car accident. At that time, he was given emergency medical intervention and given his youth, the fight for his survival seemed forever...There were more than 5 occasions when the consultants approached Verity and said her son was dying and heart failure would finally be the outcome of his imminent death. The consultants put her son in a therapeutic hypothermia state (therapeutic hypothermia is a treatment used on many brain injured patients) and she vividly remembers touching her son and how he felt like a cold dead body. Verity's son survived against all odds but left him in a Vegetative State for a long time. After one year, the consultant wrote to Verity suggesting that on her approval, he would like to "withdraw nutrition and hydration" which would assist her son in dying as there was “no future for him”. She declined. Three years later, a similar request was made by another consultant despite her son showing minimal consciousness. A second opinion was appointed by the Courts of Protection resulting in her son's feeding being reinstated. 

Now, Verity's son is at the top end of Minimal Conscience State living in beautiful care home next to a lake. He is trying to communicate and is slowly improving. She says: “His ability to eat or taste proper food will probably never materialise but who knows with his determination.” 

Since 2005, the tragic accident of Verity's son has left the whole family “living a nightmare”, as she described it, “an out of control roller coaster ride that never stops”. Verity is still grieving although her son is still alive. It's like living in a state of limbo, she explains, never knowing how she may feel when her son finally dies. Would the grief be worse?

Although Verity is extremely proud of her son’s battle for survival, she knows that he would not have wanted to choose to live like this. She feels that the son she knew in her heart is dead. She says: “It was medical intervention that kept him alive. … He would have died, given his choice but they fought and fought and fought and fought to keep him.” Although at that time all she wanted was for him to live, with hindsight, “I would let him die with dignity".

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