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Waking up after 15 years in a coma, Spanish man has new perspective on euthanasia

Miguel Parrondo

Public Domain

Forum Libertas - published on 06/30/14

‘My father had faith and didn't unplug me,’ says Miguel Parrondo.

Among the risks that come with the legalization of physician-assisted suicide, there is the chance that those have been in a coma for a long period of time may be disconnected from the devices that keep them alive. 

Cases like that of Mathew Taylor  give us pause. He’s a British citizen woken up by his girlfriend’s voice after spending nearly a year in a coma.

Now, an even more spectacular case, in Spain, has come to light. Miguel Parrondo, who was in a coma after suffering a traffic accident in 1987, woke up in 2002 thanks to his family’s perseverance, love, and faith.

His father, a dermatologist in the same hospital where he was brought, flatly refused to disconnect him six months after the accident.

In fact, when Miguel arrived at the Juan Canalejo hospital in A Coruña, none of the doctors thought he could come out of the coma. Even his own father, when he saw his son’s state, asked the hospital chaplain to give him last rites.

The accident occurred when Miguel, age 32, was driving two women home after a night out. They were "two girls I had met on a crazy night," he confessed.

He missed a curve and crashed into a wall with his Renault 5 GT Turbo. One of his passengers died.

For years, his mother, father, and daughter, Almudena, did not leave his side in the hospital. Driven by their faith, they spent more than a decade looking after Miguel. They were years of tears, exhaustion and difficult moments, such as the time the doctors suggested that they consider disconnecting him.

"They wanted to unplug me, and my father got his hospital colleagues together and said that only God can take life away. If not for that, I would not be here, because they thought I was a lost cause. My father had faith," said Miguel.

He awoke one morning in 2002, at age 47. Without knowing how, he opened his eyes, and the first thing he saw behind the glass of the ICU was his mother and his daughter. "I looked at my daughter and asked her, ‘Are you Almudena?’ Because I remembered that I had a daughter with that name. And she said, ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘I am your father.’ My mother was crying like a baby and my father couldn’t believe it.

"It was as if I slept and I woke up the next day, he said. “When I saw my daughter, I flipped. She had made me a grandfather! She is now 38 years old."

There is no medical explanation for Miguel’s recovery. His incredulous father took him to the University of Santiago for further examination. “They said it was one case in a million,” Miguel said. “I mean, I’m a freak. And my poor mother. She spent every day in the ICU watching me through the glass. She ate there, slept there, and never left me," he said.

Returning to life was not easy. "It was a shock," he acknowledged. "I look like a road map. They took my spleen. I wear a prosthesis on my shoulder. I had severe craneoencephalic wounds that caused a hemiparepsia (an ailment that decreases motor power and paralyzes part of the body) because of the brain scars. I was more dead than alive."

He’s left with a permanent disability, which prevents him from working.

The tragic night in 1987 is the last thing he remembers. "I remember where it was, on a curve, and I was speeding,” he said. “I remember this because my father showed me the accident report and it says I was going 124 miles per hour with a R5 GT Turbo. That’s all I remember."

"Unfortunately, a girl died with me,” he lamented. “And let me tell you what happened recently: I was going down the street and a lady was staring me up and down. I thought, I’m handsome but not that handsome. Then she said: ‘Are you Miguel?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I am Miguel.’ And she hugs me and starts to cry. I didn’t know what was happening and it turns out that she was the other girl who was in the car."

He was also facing a world that had changed much over 15 years. The first time after leaving the hospital, he felt like he was dreaming. He wanted to go back to sleep.

"The first thing I said was, ‘What is this euro thing?’ I knew nothing of the euro; I was still with pesetiñas. When I first got into a car, I looked for the starter to turn it on. We always used to crank it up before.

"When I started to go out on the street, I was thinking, ‘People are crazy," he continued. “‘They are talking to themselves.’ And it turns out they were talking on their mobile phones. Or I saw a police car with a woman at the wheel and I thought I was hallucinating or she was wearing a costume for a holiday."

"In the car I had a cassette player and now there are CDs and pen drives…. Where the neighborhood of Los Rosales is today, it used to be all mountain terrain, and I used to train for motocross there. The highway didn’t exist; there was only the national road."

When he went to the bank he asked where the computer was. “In my time, it was a monster, and now they are these little things,” said Miguel, who worked as a programmer in Banco Pastor when banks were beginning to use computers. “The first day I read the newspaper, I said to myself, ‘I have to go to school to learn geography. The Czech Republic, Montenegro, Slovenia. But what countries are those?’ It was the USSR and Yugoslavia in my times. Germany was unified. I had my accident when Felipe Gonzalez was prime minister and I woke up with ‘zapatitos.’ Those were brutal years for technology in everything. Televisions were closets before and there were only two channels. In A Coruña, the movie theaters I knew are gone. So it’s all at once. I said, ‘What happened here? I’m going back to sleep.’"

But one thing remains the same: his passion for motor sports. He is struck by the devestating injury retired German race car driver Michael Schumacher sustained while skiing and is convinced that "he will recover well, with physical therapy and all that. I recovered well."

Now Miguel drives "a normal car without adaptations" and shows off all the trophies he won in the world of motocross.

He says that there are many cases like his, with desperate families that are doubting, that have lost hope. So his experience makes him an opponent of euthanasia.

"We should never lose faith. I was with a lady recently whose son had been in a coma for four years, and she was broken," he said. "And I told her my story and the lady was filled with hope."

He now lives a quiet life, enjoying the opportunity life has given him, though "a little desperate from spending all day doing nothing. I am hyperactive and the days seem like weeks to me." But he does not complain. There is not a single reason to complain: "As I say, now it’s like I’m 12 years old because I was born twice."

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