'Coma' stories gave hope when there was noneThis is a plea...

LETTERS

March 28, 1996

'Coma' stories gave hope when there was none

This is a plea to all members of the media everywhere. Please be careful what you print, what you say and how you say it.

In February, you carried a stories about a young policeman in Tennessee, Gary Dockery, who suddenly awoke from a coma-like state. He had pneumonia and was being prepared for surgery when he just woke up and started talking to his family. You said it was a miracle. Some used the term ''vegetative state" while others called his prior condition a "coma."

My son, David, was in a coma, the result of head injuries he received from an automobile accident. His brain swelled uncontrollably in spite of heroic efforts on the part of his doctors. He eventually survived the accident but he remained in a coma for months.

The doctors never gave us any encouragement, but we thought he could beat the odds. We visited him every day, talked to him, washed his hair and prayed a lot. Then, after six months of anguish, the doctors finally told us there was no hope.

David had come out of the coma and was now in a vegetative state. His brain damage was so severe there was no chance of recovery. He couldn't see, talk, think, move a finger or eat a thing. He was being kept alive through tubes and machines.

David never said a word to anyone, never squeezed a hand or obeyed simple commands. On the other hand, over the years Gary Dockery had responded verbally and nodded his head to questions, but generally he appeared to be unconscious. You didn't report those details right away. You simply said that, after seven years, Mr. Dockery suddenly emerged from his "vegetative state" or "coma" and spoke to his family for 18 hours. You said it was a miraculous recovery.

The story was an eye-catcher, a ''feel good'' story -- at least for some. Unfortunately, there are more than 20,000 young people in vegetative states in this country. Their brains are irreversibly damaged; they're destined to live the rest of their lives in nursing homes and hospitals. Most of their families have probably resigned themselves by now, so please don't give them false hope.

Tell them the truth. Mr. Dockery was never in a vegetative state, maybe not even in a coma. He was semi-conscious, as the doctors are now finally saying. There's a big difference between ''coma'' and ''vegetative state'' and an even greater difference when the condition is a ''semi-conscious state'' -- the difference is called hope.

Nicci Bojanowski

Baltimore

Throwing people out on the street

Several recent articles in The Sun by John O'Donnell discuss plans by Congress and by the president to slash disability assistance.

If these policy makers had simply followed your newspaper's coverage of the disability assistance debacle in Maryland, they would know the consequences of this action.

The elimination of DALP in July 1995 has produced well-documented, devastating consequences for all Marylanders.

Massive increases in the numbers of our neighbors living on the streets, greatly increased begging, a rise in expensive emergency room use -- these phenomena follow such short-sighted public policy as inevitably as spring follows winter.

We can improve our social welfare programs without increasing poverty, misery and inequality.

For example, Health Care for the Homeless recently became the representative payee for 10 homeless persons who were found eligible for SSI benefits. These individuals are now housed and engaged in seeking the maximum independence -- and dignity -- possible.

Terminating their SSI benefits, as the administration proposes, will force 10 more Marylanders to sleep on steam grates, seeking treatment for frostbite in local emergency rooms.

Jeff Singer

Baltimore

Three reasons to allow gambling

I favor expanding Maryland's gaming industry for three reasons.

First is the customers' benefit. The lure of a big payoff for a small wager is fun. Gambling has terrific entertainment value.

Second is the benefit to the state's economy. Supplying additional gaming outlets and alternatives will increase jobs and tax and tourism revenue. We need the money.

Third is the state's loss if slot machines are not permitted. There may only be a certain amount of gaming dollars to go around, but by not allowing slots here, Maryland's slot machine players will gamble in Delaware.

People have always gambled and will always gamble. Bingo, lotto, numbers games, keno, horse racing, Las Vegas nights, tip jars, raffles, sports pools and stock market investing are a permanent part of our culture. Why not add slots?

Often, social costs are exploited in opposition to gambling in all its forms. Obsessive individuals have spent, wasted, and gambled away their money and they will continue their self-destructive conduct whether there are more gambling temptations or not.

Wouldn't it be refreshing if decisions to allow additional gambling opportunity were made with reasonable citizens' benefits in mind -- and not the costs of losers?

John W. Barnickel Jr.

Reisterstown

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