A Buffalo firefighter who apparently suffered brain damage in a 1995 burning roof collapse and has since been virtually silent and nearly blind had a sudden unexplained recovery on Saturday, animatedly speaking to family and friends and trying to recover a lost decade, reports the New York Times. “How long have I been gone?” the puzzled firefighter, Donald Herbert, 44, asked in a 14-hour marathon of hugs, kisses, reunions and conversations with his wife, four sons, other relatives and old firefighter comrades.
“We told him almost 10 years, and he said ‘Holy cow!’ ” Simon A. Manka, his uncle, recalled yesterday. “He thought it had been three months.” Manka said his nephew – who has passed most days in a wheelchair in front of a television set – abruptly returned to life and “began to speak after nine and a half years of silence.” Pending medical tests, Manka said, the extent and the probable duration of Herbert’s recovery are unknown. Herbert, then a 34-year-old member of a fire rescue squad, rushed into a burning two-and-a-half story apartment building in Buffalo on the morning of Dec. 29, 1995. He wore a breathing mask against heavy smoke and was searching the attic for victims when the roof collapsed. Buried under flaming debris, Herbert was knocked unconscious and, according to reports at the time, went six minutes without oxygen before other firefighters pulled him free. He had severe head trauma as well as prolonged oxygen deprivation and remained in a coma for two and a half months.