In August 1997, Patient 2 was kicked in the chest and had a heart attack. He went into a coma and was declared to be in a vegetative state.
Sixteen years later, at the age of 34, he was still in a coma, though minimally conscious: He could sometimes follow objects with his eyes.
Still, in all that time, he didn’t respond to his family members. He couldn’t move or speak in reaction to any stimulus. “It was impossible to determine, based on the patient’s behavior, whether, or how, he perceived the world around him,” researchers wrote in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in January.
But then researchers discovered something extraordinary: When they screened an Alfred Hitchcock short film for Patient 2, who lay unresponsive inside a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scanner, his brain lit up the same way the brains of healthy participants did.