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Thursday, June 11, 1998 Published at 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK

Health: Latest News

Saved by a blink

Catherine Roberts is making a remarkable recovery

BBC's Clinton Rodger on Catherine Roberts' remarkable recovery
A student who spent months in a coma was saved from death by a blink of an eye.

Doctors were just a day away from pulling out the plug of twenty-six-year-old Catherine Roberts' breathing apparatus when she blinked at her mother and poked her tongue out.

Her case has led to the preparation of new national guidelines for the treatment of coma patients.

Catherine was admitted to hospital in 1992 after suffering a brain haemorrhage. Doctors at the Frenchay hospital in Bristol told her parents she was unlikely to recover and could remain in a persistent vegetative state.


She was sent to the Royal Bournemouth Hospital near her parents' home where, after several months, her feeding tube fell out of her nose. Doctors advised her parents that they should let nature take its course and allow her to starve to death.

[ image: Royal Bournemouth Hospital where Catherine was treated]
Royal Bournemouth Hospital where Catherine was treated
The tube was not replaced and, after two months, her parents were told that liquids should be withdrawn.

They began drawing up plans for Catherine's funeral. But the day before doctors were to pull the plug on her breathing apparatus, Catherine's mother Wendy noticed a change in her daughter.

Open University

She thought she saw her blink. "I said to her 'Catherine if you can hear me blink' and she blinked. I said 'if you can hear me poke your tongue out' and she poked her tongue out. I mouthed 'I love you' and she mouthed 'I love you' back," said Wendy.

[ image: Wendy Roberts saw Catherine blink]
Wendy Roberts saw Catherine blink
Since then, she has made a slow recovery, but is still badly handicapped. However, she has begun an Open University course.

Catherine's parents sued the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospital NHS Trust for negligence for failing to make a proper diagnosis of her condition and to plan the care she needed.

The trust came to a 100,000 out of court settlement with them in April. In a statement, it said: "The trust is pleased that this complex and difficult case has been settled to the satisfaction of all parties."

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