Brain scan hope for sectarian attack victim

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The family of a Derry man left in a vegetative state after a sectarian attack more than six years ago is hoping new technology will allow them to communicate with him.

Paul McCauley has never spoken or made any form of contact with his family since he was brutally beaten in 2006.

But on Tuesday night his family watched a television programme which investigated new technology which has proven to work on a patient in Canada.

The patient, Scott Routley, who is in a similar state to Paul, was able to communicate with researchers through a brain scan which experts say prove he is conscious and aware.

Yesterday, Paul’s father Jim said that the BBC Panorama programme had given them some hope.

“One of the big things for us is to know if he is in any pain or discomfort. It is very frustrating not to know if he is comfortable or not,” said Jim.

“When we watched the programme we saw many similarities with Paul, and we hope that maybe these brain scans could help us have some – even just some small bit of – communication with Paul.”

Jim said that while his son’s eyes are open, he cannot be sure he is aware or recognises his family.

“That is very hard as well. His eyes are open but he has little control of them and we don’t know if he is aware of us in the room when we visit or if he recognises us as his family.

“So maybe this technology could help us and Paul in that regard – we will have to wait and see.”

British neuroscientist Professor Adrian Owen told ‘Panorama’ the technology could have huge implications for other patients in a similar state.

“We have scanned hundreds of people using these types of tasks,” he said.

“This means we are getting pretty good at knowing what is a reliable and robust response, and what is statistical noise or a chance activation in the brain. We can tell the difference pretty well.”

The McCauley family were given a 10 to 15-year life expectancy for Paul at the time of the attack.

“We are now into the seventh year, almost halfway, but we don’t want to do the maths, it is not something we want to think about. We are focused on each day with Paul,” Jim said.

“In a way, after six years you get used and almost learn to accept the way Paul is, but I don’t think we will ever accept it as permanent. You always wait for him to come out of this.”

So far, just one person has been convicted over the attack on Paul, who was aged 29 at the time. It is believed that as many as 15 people set upon him and his two friends in the Chapel Road area of the city in July 2006. They were knocked to the ground and repeatedly kicked. Part of Paul’s skull was crushed.

The Independent Monitoring Commission said the attack was carried out by UDA elements.