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Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. This is a day devoted to gratitude. Thanksgiving’s origins are from the original settlers setting aside time to be thankful for the harvest and having food to survive the harsh winter. In the modern world, it has become a time to be with the people we love and to be grateful for all we have in our lives. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to share an amazing story of one man’s experience of struggle and gratitude.
In 1983, Rom Houben was driving home when his car was caught up in a huge accident. He nearly died that day, yet somehow he survived in a coma. Doctors ran every test they knew and found no response to any stimulus – Rom was diagnosed in a total vegetative state, and for 23 years he remained in hospital, motionless.
In 2006, Dr. Steven Laureys, an experimental neurobiologist was working on a project to better understand long-term coma patients. Laureys decided to run new tests on patients to monitor their brain activity. When Laureys ran his tests on Rom, he saw something remarkable – normal, healthy brain activity. Everyone had assumed that because Rom’s body had stopped moving, his brain had shut down too. Laureys realised that inside his still body, Rom’s brain was very much alive.
For 23 years, Rom was a prisoner in his own body. He could see everything that was going on, hear the conversations of the nurses, smell the food on the next patients table and do nothing. Rom heard about the death of his father from his distraught mother and was powerless to respond.
Laureys used intensive physiotherapy to help Rom break his silence using a voice machine operated by slight movements of one finger. Rom was free. So how does Rom explain his ordeal?
When the doctors first pronounced his coma, Rom “screamed, but there was nothing to hear”. In the first few weeks and months, Rom felt “powerlessness. Utter powerlessness. At first I was angry, then I learned to live with it.” Miraculously he learned to cope through intense periods of mediation, “I travelled with my thoughts into the past, or into another existence altogether”. Sometimes, “I was only my consciousness and nothing else”.
And after 23 years of being trapped, how did he feel when Laureys finally made his discovery? “I’ll never forget the day that they discovered me,” he said. “It was my second birth”. Rom had no anger or bitterness over his experience, only gratitude at a new chance at life. His remarkable attitude shows the power of gratitude. This story had helped me to reflect on my experience and feel immense gratitude for the countless blessings in my life.
Wherever you are in the world, I hope that you can take a moment today to think about your life and be grateful for your experience, and the world around you. Happy Thanksgiving.
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