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20.2.10 was heralded as a medical miracle. After spending more than two decades in a coma, Rom Houben, a Belgian man in his mid-forties, was suddenly able to communicate, news reports trumpeted last November.

Other experts questioned the method Houben that was apparently using to communicate. The technique is known as "facilitated communication,'' in which the patient supposedly directs the hand of a speech therapist who typed out his thoughts.

Houben's doctors said it seemed to be genuine. Until now. Dr Steven Laureys, a neurologist at Liege University Hospital in Belgium, one of Houben's doctors, now acknowledges the technique doesn't work and that while Houben is conscious, he is not communicating. "We did not have all the facts before,'' he said on Friday. "The story of Rom is about the diagnosis of consciousness, not communication.'' was injured in a car crash in 1983 when he was 20, and was said to be in a vegetative state. Last November, news of the case first broke in Der Spiegel, a German publication. Houben's speech therapist claimed she could feel pressure from his hand guiding her on a keyboard. A basic test was performed that ostensibly proved it was Houben who was communicating.

Since then, Laureys has done his own study of three speech therapists working with minimally conscious patients, including Houben. In two of those cases, including Houben's, the technique failed.


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