Terry Wallis, who spontaneously regained his ability to speak after a traumatic brain injury left him virtually unresponsive for 19 years and who then became the subject of a major study that showed how a damaged brain can heal itself, died March 29 in rehab. A facility in Cersei, a sarcophagus was 57 years old.
His brother, George Wallis, said he had pneumonia and heart problems and confirmed his death.
Terry Wallis was 19 when the pickup truck he was riding with two friends skidded off a bridge in the Ozark Mountains of northern Arkansas and landed upside down in a dry riverbed. The accident left him in a coma for a brief period, then in a continuous coma for several months. One friend died. The other recovered.
Until 2003, Mr. Wallis lay in a nursing home in a state of minimal consciousness, able to track objects with his eyes or the blink of an eye upon command.
But on June 11, 2003, he actually came back into the world when he saw his mother, Angel, suddenly saying, “Mom.” At the sight of the woman he was told was his adult daughter, Amber, who was six weeks old at the time of the accident, he said, “You are beautiful,” and told her he loved her.
“Within three days, of saying ‘Mom’ and ‘Pepsi,’ he regained verbal fluency,” said Dr. Nicholas Schiff, M.D., professor of neurology and neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medicine in Manhattan who led the imaging studies for Mr. Nicholas Schiff’s brain. The results were presented. In 2006 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
“He was confused,” Dr. Schiff said in a telephone interview of Mr. Wallis’ appearance. “He thought it was still 1984, but other than that he knew all of his family and had such fluency.”
Mr. Wallis’ brain scans – the first ever in a late-recovering patient – revealed changes in the strength of connections visible in the back of the brain, which is thought to have aided his conscious awareness, and in the middle cerebellum, an area involved in motor control, which may be causing the Extremely limited movement in his arms and legs while he was minimally conscious.
Mr. Wallis, who regained more mobility after he awoke, was diagnosed with acute quadriplegia characterized by muscle weakness in his limbs.
“It’s a rhinoceros in the sense that it showed up very late,” said Dr. Schiff. But he added, “We’ll never know why he showed up 19 years later.”
Mr. Wallis’ family believes that regular visits to the house while he was feeling minimally conscious have had an effect. “We think this helped him wake up,” his brother George said.
Mr. Wallis recovered nearly two years before the death of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who suffered severe brain damage and fell into a chronic vegetative state when her heart stopped beating in 1990. Her feeding tube was removed after a bitter national debate over patients’ rights.
Terry Wayne Wallis was born on February 4, 1964 in Mariana, Ark, his father, Jerry, was a mechanic and farmer. His mother, Angel (Marshall) Wallis, worked in a shirt factory.
At the time of the accident, Mr. Wallis was working as an auto mechanic, and his brother said, “He was a bit wild and living on the edge, doing what he could do to enjoy life.”
After Terry woke up in 2003, his father said in an interview, “He enjoyed courting the nurses and could move his arms and legs but couldn’t get up.”
He added, “He could have talked to us, but time had stopped for him. He remembered people from the time he was devastated.”
George Wallis recalls an incident eight years ago when he took his wife, Lindsey, to visit his brother, who by then was more than a decade old.
“My wife is a little younger than me, and my mom said, ‘Terry, do you know who this is?'” This is Lindsey. Mr. Wallis said. ‘She’s too pretty and too big for him,’ said Terry. ‘He thought I was still twelve.’
Until he was transferred to the rehab facility eight months ago, Mr. Wallis has spent nearly all of the past 19 years at his parents’ home, in the care of family members, including his daughter and mother, who died in 2018. “She was the glue,” his brother George said. , “The Absolute Savior.”
In addition to his brother George, his daughter, and his father, Mr. Wallis is survived by another brother, Perry; sister of Tami Bazi; and three grandchildren. His marriage to Sandy Wallis ended in divorce.
Dr. Schiff said that Mr. Wallis and the other patients “continue to teach us” about the brain’s ability to deal with trauma.
“I believe Terry’s legacy of neuroscience at the highest level, is to instill our enduring, undiluted and deep interest in understanding how human consciousness recovers after a serious brain injury,” he said.