During the electrode research sessions, he wrote, “It’s almost like having a second chance to speak again.”
Pancho was a healthy farm laborer who worked in the California vineyards until he was in a car accident after a soccer game on a summer Sunday. After having had an operation for severe stomach damage, he was discharged from the hospital and left the hospital, talking and thinking that he was on the way to recovery.
The next morning, however, I “vomited and couldn’t hold on,” he wrote. Doctors said he had a brainstem stroke, apparently caused by a postoperative blood clot.
A week later, he woke up from a coma in a small, dark room. “I tried to move but I couldn’t lift a finger, then I tried to speak but I couldn’t say a word,” he wrote. “So I started crying, but since I couldn’t make a sound, all I did was a series of horrific gestures.”
It was terrifying. “I wish I had never woken up from the coma I was in,” he wrote.
This new approach, known as neural language prosthetics, is part of a wave of innovations designed to help tens of thousands of people who can’t speak but whose brains contain the nerve pathways to generate speech, said Leigh Hochberg, a neurologist who at Massachusetts General Hospital, Brown University, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, who were not involved in the study but co-wrote an editorial about it.
Among these people there might be some with brain damage, diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), or cerebral palsy, which causes patients to lack muscle control to speak.