Background: Prognostication in the early stage of traumatic coma is a common challenge in the neuro-intensive care unit. We report the unexpected recovery of functional milestones (i.e., consciousness, communication, and community reintegration) in a 19-year-old man who sustained a severe traumatic brain injury. The early magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) findings, at the time, suggested a poor prognosis.
Methods: During the first year of the patient's recovery, MRI with diffusion tensor imaging and T2*-weighted imaging was performed on day 8 (coma), day 44 (minimally conscious state), day 198 (post-traumatic confusional state), and day 366 (community reintegration). Mean apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) and fractional anisotropy values in the corpus callosum, cerebral hemispheric white matter, and thalamus were compared with clinical assessments using the Disability Rating Scale (DRS).
Results: Extensive diffusion restriction in the corpus callosum and bihemispheric white matter was observed on day 8, with ADC values in a range typically associated with neurotoxic injury (230-400 × 10(-6 )mm(2)/s). T2*-weighted MRI revealed widespread hemorrhagic axonal injury in the cerebral hemispheres, corpus callosum, and brainstem. Despite the presence of severe axonal injury on early MRI, the patient regained the ability to communicate and perform activities of daily living independently at 1 year post-injury (DRS = 8).
Conclusions: MRI data should be interpreted with caution when prognosticating for patients in traumatic coma. Recovery of consciousness and community reintegration are possible even when extensive traumatic axonal injury is demonstrated by early MRI.