Ask Kathy M. Archives
A Collection of Questions and Answers from TBI Advice Expert - Kathy Moeller

Topic: Miscellaneous - Comas


Dear Kathy M.,

My name is Sandra. My 16 year old son just suffered a bleed from a AV (Arteriovenous Malformations) malfunction. It has been 3 weeks since this happened and he is still in a coma. I'm very confused as to what a coma is. This is because he opens his eyes but doesn't recognize us. He doesn't even follow us when we move around. He just lays there. If he doesn't like what the nurses are doing to him he will move his arms and legs in what they call a elementary way. How is it that a person does these things and can still be in a coma? Please explain this to me.


Kathy's Response:

Dear Sandra,

I am not a doctor, so the only answer I can offer is based on how I, as a layperson, would research this topic (that is, after talking to the MD who is caring for your son).

It is my understanding that there are different kinds of comas. You could start your basic research at the Britannica web site (explanations are written in language most of us laypersons can understand).

To do this, go to <> and enter the word "coma." Besides basic definitions and articles on different kinds of comas, you may also find the following web sites useful (that is, they are more useful from the perspective of knowing what to do about a loved one who is in a coma, rather than just finding out about comas: This is a web site for people who have loved ones in a coma (hence the "waiting" reference). The introductory heading is, "A Page Directed to...You Who are Waiting...While Someone is in a Coma. This is the web site for the national association serving persons with brain injury, Brain Injury Association, Inc., and provides a wide range of helpful information -- including how you and your family (and even your doctor) can get help locally (through state associations and local support groups). This is a web site (technical) on the topic of "neuropathology," sponsored by the University of Medicine and Dentisty of New Jersey. You can find a description of an AV Malformation, under the heading, "HEMORRHAGE" (approximately 1/5th of the way through the material). There is also information here describing what are commonly referred to as "bleeds."

As for your question, "How is it that a person does these things and still be in a coma?" again, a physician is the right person to ask.

On the other hand, it might be more helpful, in terms of how to deal with the situation from the family's perspective, to start asking questions of (networking with) others whose family members had either "bleeds" caused by AV Malformations, or whose children have brain injury from other causes (sometimes the cause of the injury matters less than the symptoms the person is displaying).

When it comes to a loved one being in a coma, at some point it will be important to find out what other families have learned -- even more so than understanding what a loved one's condition in the first place.

That's not to say, your questions are not important. It's just that I cannot answer them.

I can refer you to some outstanding resources for networking with other families though! Besides the Brain Injury Association (national association or your state association), some of the best ways to get support (and information and resources) is to network! I facilitate an e-mail support and discussion list for families (called ASSIST-TBI), and there are others. I know that some of the parents on these lists have children in a coma, and I strongly encourage you to talk to them!

You can find a list of e-mail support lists this site has put together. It is at the following URL:

I am sorry I could not help you with your specific questions. But perhaps you will have other questions, as time goes on... and some of these resources will be a help to you and the rest of your family!

Hope this helps,
Kathy M.

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