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The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"Doctors took some persuading"
 real 28k

Monday, 17 July, 2000, 07:42 GMT 08:42 UK
Vegetative state patients 'wrongly diagnosed'
PVS kit
The kit helped Angie Marshall to communicate again
Four in ten patients said to be in a Vegetative State (VS) have been wrongly diagnosed, say researchers.

A team at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability is launching a kit to help doctors test whether patients really are in a vegetative state.

They say the kit, known as SMART (Sensory Modality Assessment and Rehabilitation Technique), should be used in hospitals world-wide to reduce the danger of misdiagnosis.

It can detect minute responses which are easily missed by the naked eye.

The slow-to-recover patient is often incorrectly labelled as being in VS

Dr Keith Andrews, Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability

Dr Keith Andrews, director of medical and research services at the hospital, said: "The slow-to-recover patient is often incorrectly labelled as being in VS.

"Although aware of their surroundings they are unable to communicate their needs whatsoever.

"As a consequence the patient's potential for recovery and interaction with their environment is not identified and they may spend a lifetime trapped in a damaged body, with poor quality of life."

Over an intense two-week period of assessment, the SMART records and evaluates patient response to sensory and environmental stimulation.

The kit has been designed to encourage relatives and carers to take an active role in the patient's daily programme, and gives them guidance to understand the patient's responses.

The tools used are deceptively simple: a set of blocks to check if the patient can still hear, and a sign to check if they can still read.

Patients benefit

Among those patients who have already benefited from the kit is Angie Marshall who suffered a heart attack soon after giving birth.

She was left apparently in a vegetative state.

However, doctors at the London hospital discovered by using their kit that she was able to communicate.

Now that people know that Angie is aware, she is able to communicate by buzzers and blinking.

Her condition is gradually improving.

Her partner, Doug Henderson said: "It was very frustrating trying to find a way of proving to the doctors that there was an awful lot of brain activity there that was not affected."

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