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The 37-year-old, known in medical journal Cortex as Richard, regained full consciousness, recognised his family and asked to speak to his father when doctors gave him a simple sleeping medication.
He was also able to get out of his wheelchair and walk, with the help of doctors.
Richard was hospitalised in his late 20s due to a serious lack of oxygen after choking on a piece of meat. The incident left him with severe brain damage and akinetic mutism - a rare mental state where people cannot speak, eat or move, but can still open their eyes.
Richard's family agreed doctors could administer the sleeping pill Zolpidem (10 mg) after they were told there was little else that could be done for him. However, within 20 minutes, Richard was asking his nurse for food.
Doctoral student Willemijn van Erp, at Radboud University, said: "It was clear that Richard saw and heard us, but because of his brain injury, he was barely able to respond to us.
"Because Richard's situation seemed hopeless, the family and I decided to administer this medication to Richard. Against all expectations, Zolpidem had remarkable effects.
"After taking the sleep pill, Richard started talking, wanted to call his father, and started recognising his brothers again. With some help, he could even get up from his wheelchair and walk short distances."
Brain scans revealed that after the incident, parts of Richard's brain had shut down because they were being overloaded with sensory activity, known as noise. However, the sleeping pills muted the unwanted brain activity, allowing Richard to regain his speech and movement - until the effects of the drug wore off about two hours later.
Dr Hisse Arnts at Amsterdam UMC said: "Richard's brain scans show overactivity in certain parts of the brain. This overactivity causes noise and somehow shuts down the 'good' brain activity.
"We have discovered that administering this sleeping medication can suppress this unwanted brain overactivity, creating space for speech and movement.
"The time windows during which the patient was able to talk and move got narrower, and his abilities to move and speak during these time windows decreased.
"The use of multiple doses of zolpidem during a single day showed no improvement in his clinical condition and sometimes even caused sedation."
The researchers are now looking into an enduring solution which could help patients like Richard with this specific kind of brain injury stay fully conscious.
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