MAINZ, Germany — A doctor who treated a woman who woke up 27 years after a car crash left her in a coma has spoken of the "ecstatic" moment she began to talk again and said how rare her case is.
Munira Abdulla was injured while driving her son, Omar Webair, home from school in their native United Arab Emirates in 1991. She was 32 and he was 4 the time.
While Webair escaped with some bruising, his mother sustained a serious brain injury. Despite treatment at hospitals in the U.A.E, the U.K. and Germany, it was believed she would never wake up.
Then suddenly, last June, she did. Her family has gone public with her story in the last few days to give hope to people with loved ones in long-term comas.
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In a phone interview, Dr. Friedemann Müller, the head physician at the Schoen Clinic in Bad Aibling, Germany, where she was being treated, told NBC News that Abdulla gained consciousness after months of therapy. Müller said that when she arrived, only her eyes showed some movement and were able to fixate on persons or objects.
"It’s not like waking up in the morning," he said. "It was a process over weeks as reactions and vocalizations increased and improved."
Abdulla’s son was most optimistic when he heard his mother making sounds, Müller said, but it took a while for doctors to make out words. Soon, Abdulla clearly pronounced her son’s name, greeted doctors in Arabic, and started to cite Quran verses.
"When we realized that she was talking with us, we were ecstatic," Müeller said.
The clinic regularly treats patients who have been in a coma for weeks or months who then regain consciousness — but the sheer length of time Abdulla had been in a coma made this an extremely rare case.
"None us had ever experienced that someone wakes again after 27 years," he said.
Webair told The Emerati-based newspaper The National: "She was making strange sounds and I kept calling the doctors to examine her. They said everything was normal.
"Then, three days later, I woke up to the sound of someone calling my name. It was her. She was calling my name. I was flying with joy. For years I have dreamt of this moment, and my name was the first word she said."
Webair has said he shared his mother's story to give others hope.
Now back in the U.A.E. and receiving regular hospital care, Abdulla is still suffering the long-term consequences of brain damage. She is confined to a wheelchair, although doctors have seen improvement in her hand movement recently. Müller said she will likely always be in need of care, but is now able to consciously perceive her environment and communicate using speech.
"She takes part in family life and if somebody is gone traveling she notices and wants to know where that person is," Müller, who is still in touch with the family, said.
Carlo Angerer is a multimedia producer and reporter based in Mainz, Germany.
Patrick Smith is a London-based editor and reporter for NBC News Digital.