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Emirati woman speaks after 27 years in "vegetative coma," doctor says

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout to include Friedemann Müller's comments as reported by Spiegel Online.  

A woman in the United Arab Emirates who was in what can be described as a "vegetative coma" for 27 years has been able to speak and interact with her family, one of the German doctor's who treated her said.

In an interview with Spiegel Online, physician Friedemann Müller explained the case was rare, but not unique. He said Munira Abdulla was in a state of minimal consciousness and that her condition improved enormously over the course of a few weeks.

In 1991, Abdulla was with her son, Omar Webair, when a school bus collided with their car, Abu Dhabi newspaper The National reported. Her son, cradled by his mother before the crash, escaped with a bruise to the head.

Müller, a neurological specialist, told Spiegel Online that Abdulla's vegetative state shouldn't be confused with a coma. "No patient simply wakes up from a coma after 27 years," he was quoted as saying.

During her years in hospitals, Abdulla was tube-fed and underwent physiotherapy to prevent her muscles from deteriorating. After she was transferred to Germany, Müller said doctors took a more holistic approach, changing Abdulla's epilepsy drugs and introducing her to different stimuli like the chirping of birds.

Her son was the first to notice an improvement, and she eventually began responding to others in the room, pronouncing her son's name and reciting verses from the Quran.

Webair said one day, he woke up to someone calling his name. "It was her. She was calling my name. I was flying with joy. For years I have dreamt of this moment, and my name was the first word she said," Webair told The National.

He said he never gave up on his mother because he "always had a feeling that one day she will wake up."

Müller said the case is not unique, citing an American man named Terry Wallis who began speaking again after 20 years in a vegetative state. He said the case does provide hope for patients in similar situations.

"Don't consider them dead when they are in such a state," Webair told The National. "All those years, the doctors told me she was a hopeless case and that there was no point of the treatment I was seeking for her, but whenever in doubt I put myself in her place and did whatever I could to improve her condition."