The family of a woman struck down with Locked-In Syndrome three years ago has commended research detecting awareness in those in a vegetative state. Using simple brainwave measurements, scientists determined that many paralysed patients, who cannot move or speak, are aware of commands and able to respond to them. However, the study will require future refinements to allow for a two-way conversation.
Ballincollig’s Patrick O’Leary, whose 35 year-old daughter Catherine was struck down with Locked-In Syndrome four years ago, said the research confirmed his belief that those in a vegetative state are still conscious and aware of their surroundings. His daughter, he added, despite breathing through a tube, can communicate through blinking. “They had told us all along that Catherine was in a totally vegetative state. However, we said ‘no’. We see her for hours every day while others only sees Catherine for five minutes at a time,” he said. Ms O’Leary, who is receiving treatment in Cork University Hospital, lost her private room and one-on-one care several months ago. Mr O’Leary outlined that she is now staying in a side room, after she was diagnosed as a carrier of the MRSA bacteria. “She is just left there and nurses just pop in every now and again,” said Mr O’Leary. “This is endangering Catherine’s life. She can’t cough, she can’t swallow, she can’t shout, she can’t tell anyone what’s wrong.”
It is expected that Ms O’Leary will move back in with her family early next year, after a bungalow was made available by Clúid Housing and funded by the Department of the Environment and Cork County Council. Mr O’Leary, who suffered a heart attack six months ago, said that a full-time carer would also be needed to assist his daughter.
He is now in talks with the Health Service Executive on what services will be made available. “Initially, when we were asked if we could care for Catherine one or two nights, we said yes. However, having spoken to family, we realised that we wouldn’t be able to do it. We take her shopping, bring in a beautician to get her nails done and try and make her life as normal as possible. However, we haven’t trained as nurses. Catherine has a tracheotomy, suprapubic catheter and a feeding tube, and with all of this, we need someone there all the time with her,” he said.