Caused by car crashes, falls, or assaults, every year 1.7 million Americans suffer a traumatic brain injury. Now, something approved decades ago for a much different ailment is helping speed recovery for some.
Life for Kim and her husband, John, changed in an instant. For unknown reasons, Kim suffered a brain hemorrhage. When she awoke from surgery, she was in a minimally conscious state.
"She could squeeze your finger, but wasn't communicative," said John. "She would say typically one word or up to three word answers for things and would tend not to speak at all unless spoken to."
There is no standard treatment for severe brain injuries. But, Dr. Joseph Giacino hopes his research helps change that.
"This is the first trial to demonstrate that we can indeed influence the course of recovery from severe traumatic brain injury," said Giacino.
It focuses on Amantadine, a common drug for Parkinson's that was originally used to treat respiratory infections caused by the flu. In the trial, brain injury patients were either given Amantadine or a placebo for four weeks. At four weeks, the flu drug group improved by one point over the placebo group on the disability scale.
"Restoring, you know, human interaction between family to family, between a patient and a health care team, I think that's a very significant step forward," said Giacino.
One that paves the way to testing Amantadine on more patients like Kim. She's been on the drug for six weeks.
"It has kept all of our hopes for her alive," said John.
"I think it's going very well," said Kim.
Those in the study who received Amantadine recovered the ability to answer yes and no questions and consistently follow commands within four weeks, which was faster than participants taking the placebo. Two weeks after treatment stopped, the level of recovery in both groups was about the same.