Robin Gibb’s Coma Recovery Not So Unusual, Docs Say
(NEW YORK) -- Robin Gibb's spectacular recovery from a coma has "confounded" even his doctors, his rep says, but doctors say while there is still much that is unknown about comas, advanced testing and new aggressive treatments mean many more patients stand a chance of waking up from them.
"Waking up from a coma is not as unusual as some people think," Dr. Jennifer Berkeley, a Baltimore-based neurologist who specializes in neuro critical care, told ABC News. "It always depends on the cause. When people don't wake up is usually when they've had a specific injury. When they are very ill medically, like Robin Gibb, it can go either way."
In Gibb's case, the news was good. The Bee Gee awoke from his coma over the weekend and is showing signs of recovery.
"Robin is fully conscious, lucid and able to speak to his loved ones. He is breathing on his own, with an oxygen mask. He is on intravenous feeding and antibiotics. He is of course, exhausted, extremely weak and malnourished," Dr. Andrew Thillainayagam, his physician and gastroenterologist, said in a statement obtained by ABC News.
Gibb has advanced colorectal cancer and had received aggressive chemotherapy treatment as well as two emergency operations in the space of two months, Thillainayagam said. In his weakened condition, he developed pneumonia but failed to respond to intravenous antibiotics. He was transferred to intensive care, where he fell into a coma.
"The prognosis was very grave, given that Robin had brain swelling from liver failure, a severe pneumonia and a weakened immune system from malnutrition," Thillainayagam said in his statement. "Only three days ago, I warned Robin's wife, Dwina, son, Robin-John and brother, Barry, that I feared the worst. We felt it was very likely that Robin would succumb to what seemed to be insurmountable obstacles to any form of meaningful recovery. As a team, we were all concerned that we might be approaching the realms of futility.
"It is testament to Robin's extraordinary courage, iron will and deep reserves of physical strength that he has overcome quite incredible odds to get where he is now," the statement continued.
Perhaps so, but "miraculous" recoveries like Gibb's are becoming more common.
"There are still cases where we are confounded, but we have moved away from just standing there and feeling helpless and a lot of guesswork," said Dr. Romer Geocadin, a neurologist who specializes in neuro critical care at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. "If we can get it at the right time, there are real hopes. We're starting to see the benefits of aggressive care."
Geocadin said in the case of a coma -- a state in which a person is unable to respond to internal and external stimulation -- doctors first look to see what is impairing the person's arousal and begin treating the underlying causes.
"For instance, if it's just an issue of oxygenation or a drop in blood pressure, you start correcting those to see if the brain will take that up and nourish itself back again," Geocadin said.
In Gibb's case, his doctor said they treated his acute medical problems "very aggressively."
As for the road to full recovery, Thillainayagam is making no promises.
"The road ahead for Robin remains uncertain but it is a privilege to look after such an extraordinary human being," he said in his statement.
"I tell all my patients it's a long bumpy road," said Berkeley, adding that research has found that patients coming out of a coma after a widespread infection are never cognitively exactly as they were before.
And with an underlying disease, like metastatic colon cancer, Gibb will continue to be susceptible to recurrent pneumonia and other infections.
No doubt, he will be relying on his family to help him through, as they did while he was in a coma. According to Thillainayagam, Dwina and Gibb's three children, sons Robin-John and Spencer and daughter Melissa were at his bedside every day, talking to him and playing his favorite music.
"They have been tireless in their determination never to give up on him," he said.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio