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Munira had been in a minimally conscious state for 27 years. Then she called out her son's name.

Munira Abdullah went for nearly three decades with out seeing her son, Omar. She missed his entire school life, his teen years, milestone birthdays. And all because she put her own body – and life – on the line to save him.

The mother, from the United Arab Emirates, had collected her boy from preschool one afternoon in 1991 when a bus rammed the side of their car. With her brother-in-law driving, Munira was free to throw her arms around Omar, cushioning him from the impact.

The boy walked away with bruises; his mother was unresponsive.

Doctors later declared Munira to be in a minimally conscious state, meaning had little awareness of her surroundings. She could not speak, her eyes were closed, but her expressions made it obvious if she was in pain.

For 27 years, Munira was transferred between local hospitals, and eventually on to Germany courtesy of a grant from the UAE government, local newspaper The National reported this week.

There, she underwent more physical therapy and surgery on her weakened limbs; rehabilitation, designed purely to improve her quality of life.

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Throughout it all, Omar sat by her bedside daily, often for hours at a time. He watched as his mother seemed to gradually gain awareness of people around her.

Then in 2018, during Munira’s final week in Germany, Omar woke to a noise. Someone was calling his name.

“It was her,” he told The National. “I was flying with joy. For years I have dreamt of this moment, and my name was the first word,” the now 32-year-old she said.

She began shouting her siblings’ names “and everybody who she expected to be around her. When she was screaming it was like she was reliving the accident, and then woke up.”

An isolated case.

There are other examples of cases like Munira’s, in which a patient in a minimally conscious state regains awareness after several years. Perhaps the most famous example is that of Terry Wallis, an American man who woke in 2003 after 19 years.

His first word: “Mum”.

Wallis’ recovery excited the medical community, as they were able to use cutting-edge imaging technology to examine how his brain had formed new connections – essentially rewired itself.

But it’s important to note that recoveries like this are extremely rare. Instead, as The Brain Foundation notes, the likelihood of a person in a vegetative state experiencing significant functional improvement actually reduces over time.

“There are only isolated cases of people recovering consciousness after several years,” the foundation states via its website. “The few people who do regain consciousness after this time often have severe disabilities caused by the damage to their brain.”

Munira is continuing treatment in Abu Dhabi and, according to a hospital report cited by The National, is “currently able to communicate in a very reasonable manner, especially in familiar situations”.

Omar told the paper she will engage in a conversation if the topic interests her and will recite prayers with him.

“I never gave up on her, Omar said, “because I always had a feeling that one day she will wake up.”

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