Last December T. Scott Marr’s son found him unconscious and unresponsive in his Nebraska home. Marr, 61, was taken to an area hospital. In the emergency room, doctors told Marr’s four children that he appeared to have suffered a massive stroke and there was little chance of recovery.
By the time Marr was transferred to the intensive care unit, his condition had worsened, and he was relying on a ventilator to help him breathe. Doctors told Marr’s children there were no signs of neurological improvement, so his family decided to have the ventilator removed. His children stood around his bed and said their goodbyes.
The World-Herald reports that the next day, instead of going to plan his funeral as they had scheduled, his children decided to make one more trip to the hospital. There they experienced what the family now calls a miracle.
Marr’s daughter, Preston Marr, told the World-Herald that her aunt sent word that her father was moving and appeared to be responding to her. Preston, a nurse, thought this was likely just a reflex. But when she walked into the room and said, “Hi, Dad!” her father responded with an unmistakable smile. His eyes were still closed, but he smiled when he heard her voice.
“I literally thought I was dreaming,” Preston told the World-Herald. “It was the craziest moment ever.”
When Preston asked her father to squeeze her hand, he was not able to, but when she asked him to move his thumbs and wiggle his toes, he was slowly able to respond. After weeks of physical, speech, and occupational therapy, Marr is home and happy to be alive.
The remarkable turn of events has gained Marr the nickname “Miracle Man.” After he regained consciousness, he was diagnosed with posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome. The swelling of his brain, which doctors initially thought was due to a massive stroke, is not usually present in Marr’s condition.
Although Marr’s story is remarkable, his recovery is not unique. Conditions like Marr’s, neurological conditions and brain injuries, are not well understood. When patients appear unconscious and unresponsive, they may actually be fully aware of their surroundings and even on their way to a full recovery. A recent study showed that at least 20 percent of patients in a so-called “vegetative state” are aware and understand communication but are unable to move or respond.
One woman, who went on to recover and regain many motor abilities, describes the terrifying experience of very quickly losing almost all ability to communicate. She says, “I found myself suddenly locked into agonising immobility, with my whole body paralysed except for my right eyelid.” After years of recovery and therapy, she is now an outspoken advocate for people with disabilities and a critic of assisted suicide.
If Marr had not been able to signal to his family for a longer period of time, how would his life have gone differently? Sadly, brain-injured patients are sometimes denied basic nutrition and hydration due to the assumption that their quality of life is too inferior to justify continuing to live. The horrific pain and suffering for patients who are locked-in, unable to move or respond while they are starved and dehydrated to death is unthinkable.
These harrowing scenarios are not hypothetical. In 2005, Terri Schiavo, a brain-injured woman who was breathing on her own and appeared to respond to her parents, was starved and dehydrated to death at the request of her estranged husband. After 14 days without nutrition and hydration, Terri died.
Her family founded the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network to help other patients denied the Right to Life and denied access to basic nutrition and hydration. In Texas, thanks to an incremental reform in 2015, the law ensures that artificially administered nutrition and hydration (AANH) cannot be withdrawn over a patient’s medical directive in most cases.
However, much remains to be done to protect vulnerable patients in Texas. Under the current 10-Day Law, hospitals still hold the power to make Life and death decisions for Texans, even if doing so goes against the written and stated wishes of the patient or the patient’s family. Protecting the Right to Life of all Texans is imperative, which is why repealing the anti-Life 10-Day Law is a Pro-Life Legislative Priority for the 86th Session of the Texas Legislature. Vulnerable patients like Marr and Chris Dunn deserve to have their Right to Life recognized in our law.