Overheard: 'Waiting for our son to wake up'
Ryan can breathe on his own but has a tracheotomy tube so that his breathing isn't obstructed by his inability to swallow.
June 19th, 2012
12:49 PM ET

Overheard: 'Waiting for our son to wake up'

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

Seventeen-year-old Ryan Buchanan was deprived of oxygen for almost 20 minutes after a sand tunnel collapsed on him at the beach in California. That was one year ago, and now Ryan — who is in a persistent vegetative state — is at home with his family.

The Buchanans’ decision to keep Ryan at home (and alive) has polarized CNN commenters. They expressed their strong opinions on the story, “Waiting for our son to wake up,” published this week.

Some shared personal experiences that related to what the family might be experiencing, even saying they should hold out for a miracle:

Lonnie F Parrish
My wife and I are in our 27th year of taking our son home [after a] head injur[y]. Took us a year and a half to wake him from a coma. … At the time we were strong and willing and we figured that if we didn't try nobody else would. So we did and we woke him up but during that process we became closer to our son than we ever were before and he became a part of who we were.

Until a family is faced with a crisis such as this, they don't know what type of choices they would make. My son was critically injured last July 16 and spent 9 weeks in intensive care and the first 10 days we didn't know if he was going to survive or not. My son's life and mine has been drastically changed forever, and our journey continues on a day to day basis. I can't tell this family to pull the plug on their child because I don't know if I could have done that with mine if ultimately faced with that decision. Right or wrong, I understand the love of a parent for a child and today I am able to touch my son and and feel his heart beat and it is worth all we have gone through.

I have an uncle who attempted suicide by putting a shot gun to his forehead. The doctors told my grandparents it was hopeless, that he would never wake up, that he would never get better. My mother stayed by his bedside for months and prayed while holding his hand. One day that hand moved. Today my uncle has two children, a loving wife, and five grandchildren. Never give up hope. Miracles happen every day.

Others contributed sympathy, support and prayer:

Bless that family. If only we could help. You never know – Ryan could wake up. I would never want to stay in that state; however, would never judge the family. There is so much love there.

Peter Ishak
May God be with this family! Let's not judge the parents because none of us were in this situation. We should be praying for them, not criticizing them!!!!

To those who would pull the plug on their kids.. you're messed in the head. I would never, ever, pull the plug on someone I love.. because you never know what could happen. They could have a full recovery and life a normal, healthy life. But if you're selfish and don't want to give them a chance, then that life will never happen. I'm sure if you were in the same situation, you would want people to try to keep you alive... right?

Yet most said the family has not made the right decision:

Dying is part of life. Whether we like it or not, it happens. To ... [keep] a body partially functioning with extensive aid from mechanical devices and drugs and call that living is an atrocity. For parents and care givers to keep a vegetative human alive instead of using their energy, time and resources helping those who could truly benefit is also selfish. How many lives could be improved or even saved by organ donation?

People should be allowed to die with dignity. As heart wrenching as these situations are, seeing someone in a coma for years and die slowly from an infected bedsore or other septic process is no better.

I understand people who love their children unconditionally. I love my two children in the same manner. However, if there comes a time to make a choice between a vegetative state so I can sit and watch a game with them versus a certain quality of life that my children (or any human) deserves - as a dad, I would respectfully end my son's life and pay tribute to him everyday with a smile of my memories and a gift to others. That would make me happier than anything else given the circumstances. I'm sorry to the family to have to go through this.

I'm sorry, but the parents need to face the fact that he's not waking up. Their son Ryan is gone, and has been gone since June 2011. They need to grieve and try to move on rather than living their lives in false hope

Almost as many readers wrote about Ryan’s expensive medical care, which is about $40,000 per month:

Financing the care for all this should be done out of their own pocket. $500,000 a year adds up and is the reason insurance is ridiculous for most people.

The family should be allowed to choose how to care for their son.
 If they can afford it themselves.

This may seem callous but it needs to be asked: Who is paying the $40,000 monthly bill? If his vegetative state goes [on for] a year that's $480,000, 10 years that's $4.8 million and that's not adjusting for inflation. [If] public monies are even remotely involved - some serious accountability needs to be looked at. And if it's all insurance, it's no wonder rates are going up.

This is a terribly sad situation. I can't imagine being in the parents' shoes. Having said that, I question the cost to an already over-burdened state. $40,000 per month. For how many years? For how many similar instances? (Does anyone know how many cases like this are being covered by the State of California?). Yes, it is crass to be talking about money – but money is a resource – and like all resources, it is limited. The money spent on this is not available for use somewhere else.

Others addressed fellow comments that used the phrase “pull the plug,” saying this terminology is not appropriate:

Just a general point, and as someone who went through this agony when my mom had a sudden cardiac arrest and was on life support, the expression "pull the plug" may sound funny but it isn't. It makes it sound like these decisions are as easy and meaningless as turning off a light. Someone used that expression in talking about my mother when she was in a coma, and I will never forget how hurtful and callous it was.

He is breathing on his own, people, there is no plug to pull! So would you then starve him to death? It's expensive to maintain him, true. But walk the mile in their shoes before you spout such hateful and selfish rhetoric as I have read below. For all you know, his is cognizant in there, he just can't move or express it.

What do you think about the excruciating decisions Ryan’s family has faced? Is it possible to know how one would react without suffering a similar loss? Share your opinion in the comments area below, or sound off on video via CNN iReport.

soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Erin

    I told my eight year old son recently that empathy was "looking from the position of another person as if you were them; walking in another's shoes". Later, I was idly complaining about some fairly inane thing I thought someone had done, and his sweet true voice asked me, "Did you walk in their shoes, mommy?" No judgement, no malice. A simple question.

    June 19, 2012 at 15:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Neuro

    Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation have shown some promise in helping comatose patients. They should try this since there are no ill after effects.

    June 19, 2012 at 16:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • BoddaGetta

      Thank goodness my mother left a Living Will/DNR so I wouldn't be forced to make this decision. Even though I'm 22, after seeing her suffer and slowly die over the course of a few months, eventually ending up in a coma, I went to a lawyer and made a living will, specifying to my father and other loved ones that if I were to have something to happen to me within certain vegitative parameters, I wouldn't want to live that way for the rest of my life. Having had a cousin that went without oxygen for 20 minutes, then seeing his 8 year suffering stint before he mercifully passed away was so painful to see. His living brother was never the same psychologically again.

      June 20, 2012 at 10:09 | Report abuse |
  3. sacchrainkiss

    The situation is tragic, of course. I cannot say with any degree of certainty what I would do in their situation, because I have never been in their situation. I know that I would not choose to live that way, and I have informed my family of my wishes since I was a teenager. I feel fortunate that my family has been very open about these matters so that everyone is on the same page regarding matters like this. As uncomfortable as it is, every family should have that conversation, even with teenagers because you really never know what could happen. Perhaps if this family had had such a conversation we would be reading about them letting him die according to his wishes instead of them clinging to the sliver of hope that he may one day truly open his eyes and know who he is.

    June 19, 2012 at 18:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Name*punababe

    If they can afford it then it's still sad the boy is forced to live. They are selfish.

    June 20, 2012 at 03:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Bashar

    My brother has been in a minimal responsive state for almost 6 years now. He doesn't speak nor move, and fed by gastrostomy. The whole family is waiting for him to wake up and achieve any amount of recovery, nothing else. I do know how hard it feels to have a loved one in such state.

    June 20, 2012 at 10:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Mom to twins

    My twins were born prematurely 9-years ago. My boys both have chronic health issues and require gastrostomy feeds to survive. My son was on a vent and trached for 2 years. For years, they have received nursing care and therapy in the home. The boys have private insurance and Medicaid as a 2nd payer. In the NICU, we had to decide whether to let my son go or trach him. We decided to trach him and bring him home. We had nursing 8-12 hours each day, but we had to care for him the rest of the time ourselves. He required 24/7 care for 2 years. He improved and now he is doing much better excluding long-term chronic issues. He is moderately delayed cognitively and he is unable to walk. But, he is happy. He loves life and he brings our family so much joy. Honestly though, had we been told there was little hope of a recovery, we probably would have let him go. We had reasonable hope he would improve, and he did. My heart goes out to these parents, but one must remember that sometimes letting someone go is the kindest act of love. As for the $ side, my boys have incurred $3 million dollars in expenses over the last 9-years. They will no doubt require costly care for the remainder of their lives. There are no easy answers, but it definitely seems the current "system" we have is unsustainable. I wish the boy and the parents well. I hope they can find peace and let him go. I know they love him and care for him as best they can. The level of dedication and care he requires now is very stressful and overwhelming. I just hope they are truly doing right by him.

    June 20, 2012 at 15:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Kathy

    i have a son who suffered a TBI at 17 ,he is now 23.My son is in a minimally concious state.I will never give up hope that one day they find a break thru to help TBI patients. I have been reading some awful comments .No one knows for sure what the brain will or wont do,not even doctors,they go by statistics.And there have been many people who have proven statistics wrong. So if they are willing to take care of their son and hope and pray for him and wait for some possible break thru no one should judge them.And as far as the money ,our taxes have been spent on alot worse things then saving a childs life.

    June 22, 2012 at 15:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Shannon

    As an Emergency Room Nurse I have seen my fair share of these tragedies. In my opinion I would let him pass, but as a nurse I can understand that everyone must do in this situation what is right to them and if keeping their son alive is what feels right then that is what they must do. I pray for their situation and that God will be at their side.

    June 22, 2012 at 16:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Victoria

    The situation is dismal, no one can argue the facts. However, $40,000 a month? Feeding tubes, and physical therapy, catheters? What kind of life is this for someone so young? It's been a year now, even if the boy wakes up, even if the doctors can provide a decent way of living, he has already lost so much. Unfortunately for the family (and my heart goes out to them), they are in a painful, most exhausting, and unfair position. He is breathing on his own, though he cannot eat on his own, they cannot simply stop feeding him. That would be a cruel. I have no idea what I would've done, or would do if this situation ever happened to me. I do know that, if someone lost 20 minutes of oxygen- they should've been dead. The young boy lived. And that says something. Good luck to the family, and I pray for a recovery soon.

    June 22, 2012 at 18:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Katkat

    Very sorry for the family and I truly hope they can have a miracle happen and have their son back...that being said if they made the decision to keep hope alive, and keep their son alive, then the bill needs to be paid by them and not taxpayers. There are to many people that have a chance at a productive life that die every day because they cannot afford medical care. A child who has leukemia, for example, and WILL recover and thrive with treatments should come before a vegetative-state person. Yet many children die because there is no money for care....

    June 23, 2012 at 22:18 | Report abuse | Reply
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    July 5, 2012 at 18:12 | Report abuse | Reply
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