‘I have that gut feeling he is there’: Family, U of A hosting international brain science expert

Click to play video: 'Alberta family hopes brain science expert can help their loved one'
Alberta family hopes brain science expert can help their loved one
WATCH ABOVE: An Alberta family is hoping an international expert in brain science can help their loved one who is awake but not aware. Su-Ling Goh reports. – Feb 25, 2016

EDMONTON – Dr. Adrian Owen is world renowned for his research in human consciousness. Now you can hear him speak, for free, at an upcoming event in our city.

“I’m going to be talking about our research into patients who are behaviourally non-responsive,” Owen said during a Skype interview from his lab at Western University.

READ MORE: How Canadian Scientists are communicating with vegetative patients

Owen is being hosted by the University of Alberta’s Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute, along with a local family.

Jesse Lucas has been unresponsive ever since an infection caused his heart to stop two years ago. It took several minutes to resuscitate him. By that time, the then-37-year-old had sustained a severe brain injury.

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“We didn’t know if he was going to make it, so every morning, we’d have a group text with the family, just saying, ‘Is he still there?'” Jesse’s sister Spenser Brassard said.

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“My mom and dad would call the hospital, and (they’d say) ‘He’s still fighting, he’s still fighting.'”

Lucas can’t move much or speak. He will sometimes laugh or cry. But in two years, he has only noticeably responded once.

“We were all around him,” Brassard recalled  with a smile, “and we asked, ‘Can you squeeze our hand?’ And he did!”

“It was amazing. We all started crying. It was a scene out of a movie.”

That moment has given Lucas’ family hope that he is “still in there,” locked inside his body, unable to communicate.

According to Owen’s research, that is possible.

He has shown that for every five patients like Lucas, one is actually aware. Owen has even communicated with some “vegetative” patients, by monitoring how their brain activity responds to yes or no questions.

Lucas’ sisters dream of being able to communicate with their “fun-loving, thoughtful” big brother again.

“I do have that feeling, that gut feeling, that he is there,” Brassard said.

Owen’s lecture is at the University of Alberta on Wednesday, March 2, at 5 p.m. For more information, click here.


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