Terry Wallis, 57, Died; Awakened 19 Years After Traumatic Brain Injury


Terry Wallis, who spontaneously regained the ability to speak after a traumatic brain injury, was nearly unresponsive for 19 years, and then was the subject of a massive study showing how a damaged brain can heal itself, died in rehab on March 29. The facility in Searcy, Ark. He was 57 years old.

His brother, George Wallis, who confirmed the death, said he had pneumonia and heart problems.

Terry Wallis was 19 years old when the truck he was in with two of his friends skidded off a small bridge and crashed into a dry riverbed. The accident left him briefly in a coma, after which he remained in a permanent vegetative state for several months. A friend died; the other recovered.

Until 2003, Mr. Wallis lay in a nursing home in a minimally conscious state, able to follow objects with his eyes or blink on command.

But he effectively returned to earth on June 11, 2003, when he saw his mother Angilee and suddenly called him “Mom”. When he saw the woman, who was said to be his adult daughter, Amber, who was six weeks old at the time of the accident, he said, “You are beautiful,” and said that he loved her.

“He regained verbal fluency within three days of saying ‘Mom’ and ‘Pepsi’” Nicholas SchiffA professor of neurology and neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medicine in Manhattan, who leads imaging studies of Mr. Wallis’s brain, said in a phone interview. Findings presented in 2006 Journal of Clinical Research.

Dr. “She was disoriented,” Schiff said of Mr. Wallis’ appearance. “He still thought it was 1984, but other than that he knew all the people in his family and he had that fluency.”

Mr. Wallis’s brain scans—for the first time in a late-recovering patient—revealed changes in the strength of visible connections in the midline cerebellum, a related area in the back of the brain believed to aid conscious awareness. in motor control, which may have explained the very limited movement in his arms and legs while he was minimally conscious. Having regained some mobility after awakening, Mr. Wallis was diagnosed with severe quadriparesis, characterized by muscle weakness in his limbs.

Dr. “It’s a unicorn in the sense that it showed up this late,” Schiff said. “But we will never know exactly why it emerged 19 years later,” he said.

Mr. Wallis’ family believe that regular visits to the home while he is minimally conscious have had an effect. “We think it helped him wake up,” his brother George said.

Mr. Wallis’s recovery took place about two years ago. Terri Schiavo’s deathA Florida woman who suffered extensive brain damage when her heart stopped in 1990 and went into a permanent vegetative state. The feeding tube was removed after a fierce national debate over patients’ rights.

Terry Wayne Wallis was born on February 4, 1964 in Marianna, Ark. His father, Jerry, was a mechanic and farmer. His mother, Angilee (Marshall) Wallis, worked in a shirt factory.

Mr. Wallis was working as an auto mechanic at the time of the accident and, according to his brother, “was a little wild and lived on the edge, doing everything he could to enjoy life.”

After Terry woke up in 2003, his father said in an interview, “He enjoyed flirting with the nurses and could move his arms and legs but couldn’t stand up.”

He could talk to us, but for him, time seemed to stand still. He remembered the people when he was destroyed.”

George Wallis recalled an incident eight years ago when he brought his wife, Lindsey, to visit her brother, who by then had been recovering for over a decade.

“My wife is a little younger than me and my mom said, ‘Terry, you know who this is? This is Lindsey. She’s George’s wife,'” said Mr. Wallis. “And Terry said, ‘She’s beautiful and she’s too old for him.’ She still thought I was 12.”

Until he was transferred to a rehabilitation facility eight months ago, Mr. Wallis has spent nearly all of the past 19 years at his family’s home, cared for by family members, including his daughter and mother, who died in 2018. glue,” said his brother George, “the absolute savior.”

In addition to his brother George, daughter and father, Mr. Wallis has another surviving brother, Perry; one sister, Tammy Baze; and three grandchildren. His marriage to Sandi Wallis ended in divorce.

Dr. Schiff said Mr. Wallis and other patients are “still teaching us” about the brain’s potential to cope with trauma.

“I think Terry’s legacy to neuroscience is at the highest level,” he said, “to instill our enduring, undiluted, and profound interest in understanding how human consciousness can recover after severe brain injury.”



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