15 Songs That Brought People Out of Comas
Do your friends and family know your favorite tunes? It's more than just a quiz to see who knows you best—someday, it could save your life. Doctors often recommend that people visiting coma victims play music that has special meaning to them. This is known as a "salient stimulus," something that is familiar and emotionally important. Stimuli like these are so powerful they can even rouse coma victims from their deep slumbers. Here are 15 songs that have done the trick.
1. The Song: Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”
The Story: In 2011, 7-year-old Charlotte Neve had a rare brain hemorrhage that resulted in a coma doctors said she might not come out of. Charlotte’s mom was preparing for the worst when the 2012 Grammy “Song of the Year” came on the radio while she was visiting her daughter. Since it was a song that both mother and daughter enjoyed, Charlotte’s mom began singing along. To her amazement, Charlotte smiled. It was the first reaction she had had to anything since falling into the coma. Two days later, she was talking and getting out of bed.
2. The Song: James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful”
The Story: Five-year-old Claudia Dealwis’ parents were devastated when she fell off of a friend’s balcony, fracturing her skull and falling into a coma. She had been in the coma for 10 days with no signs of improvement when “You’re Beautiful,” one of Claudia’s favorite songs, came on over the hospital radio. "When it came on the hospital radio we could just see her starting to move a bit and we knew she was beginning to wake up,” her father said. "When she opened her eyes and acknowledged us we were so relieved. Every little movement was like a massive step."
3. The Song: The Mack & Mabel soundtrack
The Story: John Flynn, a London-based marketing executive, had three heart bypass operations in less than 24 hours in 2012. Shortly thereafter, he fell into a coma as a result of severe internal bleeding. He had been unresponsive for six days—until one of his sons started playing music for his father from his iPod. When they settled on Mack & Mabel, a musical about old Hollywood, Flynn started “tap dancing on the end of the bed.”
Flynn, who happens to invest in West End productions, later received the opportunity to invest in the off-West End “Mack & Mabel.” While he doesn’t usually put money into off-West End shows, he made an exception this time.
4. The Song: Green Day’s “American Idiot”
The Story: In 2005, Corey George was a huge Green Day. (Join the club, buddy.) He was hit by a car on his ninth birthday and was unconscious for two weeks afterward, clinging to life via a life support machine. Then his mother got the idea to play him his favorite album—American Idiot. Corey had opened his eyes and was wiggling his fingers and toes less than an hour later.
5. The Song: The Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”
The Story: In 2009, Jarrett Carland spent four months in a coma after being in a car accident that claimed the life of his best friend and seriously injured another. Doctors didn’t expect him to live—and said that if he did, he would likely be in a vegetative state for the rest of his life. To try to bring him out of it, his parents played the song that Carland almost obsessively listened to: “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” It took many repetitions, but eventually, Carland responded. Nearly a year later, he got to thank Charlie Daniels in person.
6. The Song: Robin Gibb’s “Don’t Cry Alone”
The Story: In 2012, the Bee Gees' Robin Gibb caught pneumonia. Because his immune system was weak from battles with liver cancer and colon cancer, as well as chemotherapy, Gibb fell into a coma. He later cried when his wife played him Roy Orbison’s “Crying,” and fully revived when his son, Robin-John, played him “Don’t Cry Alone,” a classical piece commemorating the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Robin and Robin-John had collaborated on the piece together.
7. The Song: The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
The Story: Do you remember the first single you ever bought? If it meant a lot to you, it could just bring you back from the brink someday. Sam Carter was just 17 when the song was released in 1965; he was 60 when it brought him out of a coma. Despite having just over a zero percent chance of survival, Carter says that when he heard the song come on over headphones his wife had provided, "I could remember how excited I was to get it down at the record shop. I suddenly had a burst of energy and knew I had a lot more life left in me and that's when I woke up—to the sound of the first song I ever bought."
8. The Song: Robbie Williams’ “Angels”
The Story: You might remember the horrifying story of Austrian Kerstin Fritzl. She was in the news several years ago when it was discovered that she had been living in a basement cellar with her mother/sister. Yeah, not mother and sister. Her father/grandfather, Josef Fritzl, had imprisoned his daughter Elisabeth underground for 24 years, raped her repeatedly and fathered seven children with her, including Kerstin. When Kerstin fell ill in April 2008, Elisabeth convinced her father that Kerstin needed to go to the hospital. She was later successfully revived from a medically-induced coma with Robbie Williams songs, which she is believed to have listened to while in the cellar.
Kerstin’s trip to the hospital exposed her father/grandfather’s horrible dungeon, and he was sentenced to life in prison.
9. The Song: Something Bryan Adams
The Story: Christiane Kittel had been in a coma for seven years—seven years—after getting a blood clot in her lung at the age of 16. In 2007, her mother heard that Bryan Adams was touring near their town and got permission from Christiane’s doctor to take her, thinking that his music might somehow reach her Adams-obsessed daughter. She was definitely right: During the concert, Christiane started moving in her wheelchair, opened her eyes and called for her mother.
10. The Song: Jessie J’s “Rainbow”
The Story: A 6-year-old girl named Tyla had to be put in a medically-induced coma after getting into a car accident with her mother and grandmother. Eight days later, Tyla’s mother heard that singer Jessie J was visiting the hospital the girl was in—and Jessie J just happened to be her daughter’s favorite singer. She contacted the star’s management team, and minutes later, Jessie stopped by to sing Tyla’s favorite song, “Rainbow.” Just a few hours later, Tyla regained consciousness.
11. The Song: Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer”
The Story: David Hassall was involved in a head-on collision with a tree that landed him in a coma—until his parents decided to crank some Bon Jovi for their then-22-year-old son. Much to her amazement, David’s mother realized that he was mouthing the words to “Livin’ on a Prayer.” He ended up making a full recovery.
12. The Song: "Dynamo" by Si Cranstoun
The Story: Cheryl Horton-Powell's heart stopped for 10 minutes after suffering from cardiac arrest in 2013. She was put into a medically-induced coma when she arrived at the hospitaL via ambulance; doctors warned her children that her chances of survival were just 50/50. In an attempt to get through, her family placed a pair of headphones on her and played one of her favorite songs. Soon afterward, Horton-Powell was tapping her feet to the music. "I was brought up with rockabilly music and that is what I've always loved, so I think it sparked something in my brain from childhood," she later said.
13: The Song: Gangnam Style by Psy
The Story: After her daughter had spent 258 days in a coma caused by a brain hemorrhage, Ying Nan's mother remembered a funny little song her daughter had enjoyed. She started humming 'Horse Riding Dance,' as the Psy hit is apparently known as in China, and heard her daughter laugh. She tried again the next day and got the same reaction. Ying is in rehabilitation today and has learned to speak and walk again.
14. The Song: "Unchained Melody" by the Righteous Brothers
The Story: Another victim of brain hemorrhage, a British woman named Maria Neal had been in a coma for months with very few signs of life when her husband wondered if their wedding song might trigger something. His instinct was correct. "When I actually got a response and I asked her, 'Do you know what this is?' and she nodded yes, it was absolutely fantastic," her husband said.
15. The Song: "Just the Way You Are" by Bruno Mars
The Story: Meeting Bruno Mars before his concert last year was extra special to 11-year-old Zumyah Thorpe. Thorpe survived a car crash that killed her pregnant mother and two sisters, but suffered a severe injury that kept her in a coma. Nurses played her Bruno Mars songs every night, and when Thorpe finally woke up, the first words she could utter were the lyrics to Mars' "Just the Way You Are."
Mars serenaded Thorpe with the song when he played Cleveland in 2014, as shown in the video above (have some Kleenex ready before you hit play).