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Man Wakes Up to a Strange New World After 19 Years in a Coma


Terry Wallis did the impossible. After surviving a horrific accident and being put in a coma, his chance of surviving was put at zero. Then he rocked the entire science world to its core. After 19 years, he inexplicably began to regain consciousness. It was a true medical miracle. However, he also woke up to a world of turmoil. He still thought he was his teenage self in the 1980s, but the reality was much different. After almost two decades in a coma, the world he awoke to was strange and new. His entire family had changed. What happened in the decades he was unconscious and what allowed him to wake up once again? Read on!

1. A Country Guy

Terry Wallis was born in 1964 and grew up in the Ozark Mountains of Marshall, Arkansas. Like many growing up in the rural Ozarks, he was an outdoorsman. His mother, Angilee Wallis, noted that he “loved huntin’, fishin’ and mechanicin’.” He was definitely a country guy.

terry willis

Benjamin Krain for Getty Images

Growing up, Terry was very much your average guy. He enjoyed hanging out with his friends, dating girls and working with his hands. He drove a pickup truck, loved Pepsi and liked to hang out with his best friend, Chubb Moore.

2. A Family Man

By the time Terry was 19, he had already married the love of his life, a sweet country girl named Sandi. She was only 17 at the time and Terry’s parents, Angilee and Jerry, were slow to accept her into the family.

terry willis

Benjamin Krain for Getty Images

The two quickly started a family. They had an adorable baby girl named Amber. But sadly, Terry wouldn’t have a chance to watch her grow up. When she was only six weeks old, the unimaginable happened, ripping Terry away from his beloved family.

3. The Accident

On the day that would change the community of Marshall forever, July 13, 1984, Terry and his friend Chubb were on the way to their usual fishing spot when disaster struck. They lost control of the pickup truck they were in and smashed into the railing of a bridge.

Terry wallis

Getty Images

They fell 25 feet into the dry creek bed below. One man was thrown from the vehicle, the other was hanging out the window when found. It was later confirmed that they had been drinking, but to this date, no one knows which of the two men were driving.

4. A Dire Situation

When the paramedics eventually arrived at the scene they were faced with the task of delicately getting both Terry and Chubb out of the creek bed and up to the road without further injuring them. Due to the severity of their injuries, the two were rushed to the North Arkansas Regional Medical Center in Harrison, Arkansas.

Terry Wallis

Not even the hospital was prepared for the condition Terry and Chubb were in and decided instead to take them by helicopter to St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, Missouri. Their parents were notified. The Wallis family was notified by a neighbor since they didn’t have a phone, but it would take them around three hours by car to get to Springfield—three hours of that likely seemed like an eternity.

5. Confusion

Terry and Chubb’s mothers quickly made their way to Springfield, receiving updates from the hospital along the way. Neither men had their wallets on them when they were found and confusion arose between which of the injured men was Terry and which was Chubb.

terry wallis

Benjamin Krain for Getty Images

The worried parents tried as best they could to explain their features over the phone. From their understanding, Chubb was more severely injured than Terry. But in cases as extreme as this, no one knew what would happen to either of the men.

6. The Mix-Up

After three grueling hours, the parents arrived at the hospital to find both Terry and Chubb in critical condition, attached to tubes and machines. There had also been a mix-up. It was Terry who was more severely injured, not Chubb.

Terry Wallis

Benjamin Krain for Getty Images

“There will be machines and a lot of tubes,” the nurse explained. “Terry has been given medication for pain and is not awake. It is possible he might be able to hear you, so remain calm. We do not want to upset him further in any way,” she warned before allowing his mother to enter the room.

7. A Sight No Mother Should Have to See

Angilee Wallis cautiously walked into the room, trying to prepare herself for what she was about to see. The moment she saw Terry laying in the trauma room, she broke down in tears and quickly exited the room. Nothing could have prepared her for such a moment, such a tragic sight.

Terry Wallis

The most interesting things

The doctors informed her that Terry had a brain stem injury and that there was a large chance that he would be paralyzed. Despite the efforts to reduce the swelling in his brain, matters just kept getting worse.

8. The Passing of a Beloved Friend

Terry was clearly in a dire situation, but so was Chubb. Even though he was injured less severely, he didn’t make it. Chubb died in the hospital within the first week after the accident. His family and the entire rural Ozark community back home were devastated.

Terry Wallis

NY Daily News

Terry, on the other hand, wasn’t improving. Every so often his arms would twitch and his mother Angilee held onto a brief moment of happiness, only for it to be brutally ripped away. A nurse explained to her that Terry would twitch every so often but that it wasn’t a sign that he was getting better; in fact, it meant the opposite.

9. Brain Swelling

Evidently, Terry was twitching because his brain was swelling. His brain was already swollen far beyond what was considered severely dangerous levels. Should he somehow make it out of the hospital alive, he would be dealing with mental and physical issues for the rest of his life.

Terry Wallis

You couldn’t tell how injured Terry was by looking at him. In fact, the only physical sign that he had been in an accident was a small cut over his eye that required a few stitches. And yet things were very wrong. Day after day after day, the only thing that the doctors could say was, “We don’t know what the extent of his injuries will be.”

10. Critical Condition

After the passing of Chubb, the very real possibility that Terry too may die set in. Angilee recalled the torturous three-hour drive to the hospital with Chubb’s mother. She remembered how guilty she felt when they were initially told Chubb was doing so poorly.

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When Angilee first arrived at the hospital and was informed that there was a mix-up with the condition of the two men, she wasn’t angered by the mistake. She was first and foremost thankful that her son was still alive.

11. There But Not There

Terry’s father described his son as “there but not there.” He had been in a coma from the time he arrived at the hospital and his loving family was at his side day in, day out. The longer he was unresponsive and showing no signs of improvement, the more they worried.

Terry Wallis

A Catholic Life

Terry’s mother found peace in religion. “If Terry continued to live, it would be because God wanted it,” she stated, trying to stay strong. She had been on leave from her job at a local factory for weeks and was forced to return to work. She was only able to visit Terry every other weekend.

12. Minimally Conscious

Within three weeks of Terry being in the hospital, he moved from being in a coma into a minimally conscious state. This is also known as a vegetative state. In this state, the patient is sometimes conscious yet unaware of their surroundings.

Terry Wallis


The main difference between the two states is that in a minimally conscious state, the patient will have moments that can appear like they are awake, an ordeal which is especially painful for the person’s family. The patient can at times make movements and even the occasional a sound or word. But sometimes this state becomes permanent.

13. No Sign of Change

Eventually, there came a time when the family just couldn’t afford to keep Terry in the hospital and together, they made the decision to move him to a nursing home closer to Marshall. The closer proximity would help them visit and make sure that he received the proper care he deserved.

Terry Wallis


Time went on, and soon a year had passed since Terry’s accident. No sign of change and no sign of improvement. The family understood that the longer he was in a vegetative state, the less likely he was to recover from it.

14. A Difficult Decision

Due to the gravity of Terry’s condition, his doctors sat down the parents for a very serious conversation about his future. It was about whether the family should sign a DNR order (do not resuscitate) on Terry’s behalf.

Terry Wallis

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According to Terry’s mother, he had never spoken about end-of-life issues such as what do to should he enter a minimally-conscious state. Indeed, few do at such a young age. But what bothers her still to this day, is whether she made the right decision in the end.

15. No Signs of Recovery

When people enter states of coma or persistent vegetative states, the earlier they wake up, the better their chances for recovery. A little over half of all people with traumatic head wounds regain some cognitive awareness within the first year.

Terry Wallis

BBC News

But over a year had passed since Terry’s injuries, and still, he showed no signs of recovery. Doctors begrudgingly told his parents that his condition was now what they considered ‘persistent,’ and that the chance of him every waking up was zero. The news was devastating.

16. The Answer

The Wallis’ are a very tight-knit family and they all came together to discuss Terry’s future and support each other during the increasingly difficult time. “We would just sit together, the family, and just talk,” his mother said. They had an impossible decision to make.

Terry Wallis


Generally, families make such a decision in an attempt to ease the pain and suffering of their loved one in the vegetative state. But would they be able to make a decision that would possibly end Terry’s life? In the end, the answer was “no.”

17. Brewing Tensions

Even though the family came together in support, a dark shadow was looming over them. Not the question of Terry and whether to make him DNR, but one specific family member who was not present. In fact, this family member was not even invited to take part in the decision making.

Terry Wallis

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That person was Terry’s own wife, Sandi, who was now left alone with newborn daughter Amber. Just shortly after the accident in July, Terry’s parents petitioned the courts for full guardianship over their comatose son, essentially cutting his wife and daughter out of the picture and stripping them of any rights regarding Terry.

18. A Living Death

One question still remained, though: just how long could the Wallis family support and care for Terry? How long was long enough to finally lose all hope and admit that he would never wake up? Their path certainly wouldn’t be easy.

Terry Wallis

BBC News

Terry required round-the-clock attention and moving him from the hospital to a nursing home placed the financial burden of caring for their son fully on themselves. Still, they couldn’t be sure that they were doing the right thing for Terry. One doctor described his condition as “a living death, an awful state to be in.”

19. Almost Two Decades

Terry’s family brought him home on weekends and holidays but apart from that, he stayed at the nursing home. Occasionally family members dropped by to keep him company. That went on for years. Then a decade. Then after almost two decades, something amazing happened.

Terry Wallis


A full 19 years after he sustained his injuries, he suddenly began to return to consciousness. After countless medical exams and multiple doctors telling the Wallis family that Terry would never get better or regain any part of his consciousness, a miracle happened that would shake science to its core.

20. A Second Childhood

After almost two whole decades, Terry suddenly regained some type of consciousness and answered a question about who was with him. “He would answer ‘mom’, you know. He would answer the questions because it was always something with mom. …. Of course, no telling how many times he was asked who I was,” his mother said.

Terry Wallis


His mother, Angilee, said that the experience was like a second childhood for Terry. Every parent expects their children to start speaking at some point, but in Terry’s case, it was a much more dramatic experience. Or at least that’s what his family thought…

21. In Denial?

The Wallis family was ecstatic but the nursing staff, on the other hand, were less than optimistic. Terry’s responses were unexpected and he wasn’t able to reproduce them on command. This led the nurses to believe that the Wallis’ were simply in denial of the situation at hand.

Terry Wallis


“It was like they thought we were crazy,” Angilee recalled. The nurses were partially right though. Terry’s responsiveness would come and go. They could, at times, get him to answer ‘mom’ to their questions or follow a pencil with his eyes but other times they couldn’t.

22. Still Hopeful

Even though Terry’s nurses were doubtful that he was making any type of improvement, the Wallis family knew something amazing was happening. They could see glimmers of Terry shining through his unconscious state. But to the staff’s amazement, Terry slowly, day by day, kept improving.

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Terry’s family requested that he be seen by a neurologist to undergo an examination to confirm that something was going on in his brain. But that, sadly, wasn’t a possibility for the Wallis’. “They told us it would cost $120,000 just to evaluate him to see if he could be helped,” his father Jerry said. The family didn’t have that kind of money.

23. Lack of Professional Help

The Wallis’ were essentially left to their own devices, without any medical assistance. Angilee sat with Terry, reading to him, having conversations with him, knowing that deep down he was still there. She was just waiting to reawaken but at the same time feared that his short moments of awareness were only temporary.

Terry Wallis

Van Windkle’s

Despite her fears, she remained persistent and continued talking to Terry every day. She took him home that Friday, as she did every weekend, and the family gathered to help encourage Terry to talk more. Even without the help of a speech therapist, which they couldn’t afford, they were determined to do their very best.

24. Little by Little

During Terry’s weekend at home, his mother tried to get him to say Pepsi, which he loved prior to the accident. But he didn’t. Then the next morning when asked what he wanted to drink, he responded, “milk.” The moment was a turning point in Terry’s long road to recovery.

Terry Wallis

Just before Father’s Day, Terry learned how to say “dad” and then before the month of June was over, he had made even further progress, much to the delight of the Wallis family. He remembered his birthday and could even recite his grandmother’s phone number.

25. What Year is it?

Strangely though, while Terry was able to recall his birthday, he was unable to remember how old he was. In fact, he believed that Ronald Reagan was still president of the United States and that his grandmother was still alive. To him, the year was still 1984.

terry wallis

The Sydney Morning Herld

”He still believed that it was 1984, had no idea how much time had passed or how things had changed during the 19 years he was asleep,” Angilee said. She explained that Terry was indeed still the Terry she knew and loved, but he was different.

26. Same but Different

Terry was slowly coming back to his old self, in whichever ways were still possible for him to do so. While he was gaining back his speech ability, he was still a quadriplegic. Also, he was able to recall memories and events from before the accident in 1984, but not others.

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The accident severely damaged the part of his brain responsible for recalling short-term memories. This meant that he couldn’t remember things that had happened since regaining consciousness. The Wallis’ were steadfast in helping Terry get better, even though they couldn’t afford professional help. But that was about to change.

27. International Media

Doctors and the entire medical community were shocked by Terry’s progression from a minimally conscious state to such a level of awareness. They considered his case to be unprecedented and a medical marvel. His reawakening also caught the eye of media outlets from around the world.

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Benjamin Krain for Getty Images

Journalists from around the world came knocking at the Wallis’ doorstep to document the amazing story of how Terry woke up after 19 long years. Crews flew in from as far as Japan and England to create documentaries and conduct interviews.

28. The Truth Starts Coming Out

Terry slowly started gaining some short-term memory functions and very quickly began speaking in full sentences. Angilee would jokingly ask him “What else can you say?” and he would respond laughing, “Anything I want.” But regaining those abilities came with consequences.

Terry Wallis coma

Benjamin Krain/Getty Images

Terry was soon about to learn how much time had passed and all that had changed in the 19 years he was asleep. You may have noticed that during the 19 years Terry was asleep, some very important people in his life were missing from the picture, mainly his wife and daughter.

29. The Truth

So much of the world had changed since 1984. The year was 2003 when Terry finally woke up. From technological advancements to multiple wars in Iraq, even the September 11th terrorist attacks, so much was different. He woke up to a whole new world.

terry wallis

Seattle PI

But that certainly wasn’t the worst of the news. Little did Terry know that a family feud had been raging on while he lay unconscious and it all stemmed back from the day of the accident. Terry was happy to find out that he was legally still married to his wife Sandi, though.

30. The Guardians

Just shortly after the accident, Terry’s parents petitioned the courts to claim exclusive guardianship over him. This event that would essentially cut off Sandi from any legal right to see her husband, and indirectly cut off their daughter.

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“The truth is, Mrs. Wallis and Jerry never thought that I was any good and that’s why they took guardianship. It’s not fair. They won’t even talk to Amber, never had anything to do with her. I see Angilee all the time because this is a just a small place in the Ozark Mountains, but she just walks right by,” Sandi told British newspaper The Telegraph.

31. Things Get Complicated

Terry was devastated to learn that his family had broken apart while he was unconscious. His wife and daughter lived their lives separated from his family and they had changed drastically since the last time he saw them. Even though Sandi and Terry were still married technically, she had started another family of her own.

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Sandi and her daughter Amber now lived with a man named Mike. Mike, although married to another woman, and Sandi had three children together during the 19 years that had passed since Terry’s accident. “The kids live with Mike and his wife, Eleanor, and call her ‘Mom’, but they call me ‘Mom’ too. They know I’m their biological mother,” Sandi says. But that wasn’t the only surprise in store for Terry.

32. Father-Daughter Reunion

Terry’s daughter, Amber, had grown up and had started working as an exotic dancer, something the Wallis family certainly disapproved of. But since Terry’s awakening, there was no time for petty fighting. Everyone was just thankful to have him back. Amber was about to be reunited with the father she never had a chance to know.

Terry wallis

Benjamin Krain for Getty Images

Amber, who was only six weeks old at the time of the accident, recalled the drive over to meet her father, “I was so nervous driving over there,” she said. “I was looking in the rearview mirror to check my hair, I swear, I was so worried he wouldn’t recognize me.

33. A Tearful Reunion

The first words out of Terry’s mouth upon seeing his daughter, practically for the first time, was “You’re beautiful.” Both of them broke down in tears and Amber responded, I love you, Dad.” On top of seeing his daughter for the first time in two decades, he also got to meet another member of his family for the first time.

Terry wallis

Benjamin Krain for GettyImages

Terry had no way of knowing, but he was also a grandfather. Amber now had a daughter of her own named Victoria. Despite all the family fighting and feuding, Terry was thrilled just to be alive and to have a chance to meet all of his new family and reunite with the old family he had left behind for so long.

34. Lingering Pain

Sandi also had a tearful reunion with her husband Terry. Despite her new relationship and children with another man, she never stopped loving Terry. Despite all the conflict with his family, she could never bring herself to divorce him.

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Now that Terry has regained consciousness Sandi is determined to be a part of his life. To assist in taking care of him and spend time with him, she expressed a desire to live with him. She plans on continuing her marriage right where they left off over 19 years ago.

35. Move On

According to Terry’s parents, they sent Sandi a letter shortly after the accident explaining her to her that Terry had been paralyzed in the accident, making no mention of the brain damage. The Wallis’ told her that she had to “move on” with her life.

terry wallis

Benjamin Krain for GettyImages

Also, the Wallis family didn’t want anything to do with their granddaughter Amber. The two of them were tragically excommunicated from the family. “I have not been allowed to see him once in all these years, and I’m still not allowed to now,” Sandi said.

36. Only 17

Sandi and Amber were allowed to visit Terry a few times after he started talking. But the conflict continues. Sandi admits that she didn’t know what to do when the accident happened. She was a teenager with a six-week-old baby at the time.

Terry Wallis


“I was only 17 when this happened and I do remember crying and saying that I couldn’t look after Terry in that state. I was too young, and I had the baby to look after. But I didn’t expect to be cut out like that. It’s too sad.”

37. Gradually Improving

Terry’s mind grew stronger and stronger and these days it’s functioning near perfectly. He remains a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the waist down, but the media attention and donations the Wallis family have received made it possible for him to receive some professional help in his recovery.

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Medical and technological advances made in the two decades since his accident assisted in his long road to recovery. After the accident, multiple doctors determined that Terry would never wake from his vegetative state. To go from such a diagnoses to the state he is in today is a medical miracle.

38. Happy to be Alive!

The entire family is ecstatic that Terry is back to his old self and thankful that they never gave up on him, which would have been all too easy to do. Terry himself says that he is happy to be alive. “It’s good to hear him say that, because if he didn’t say so, you’d just have no way to know,” his father Jerry said.

Terry Wallis

Fine Art America Mountain View AR

“God did want Terry to live and now I know Terry also wanted to survive. My family is still the center of my life, but God is also there with us,” Angilee told reporters. Even though no one believed the Wallis’ at the time, there was a reason why they were able to hold on for so long.

39. Reasons for Hope

In the very first year while Terry was in the hospital one of his roommates died and he had a dramatic reaction to the incident. He was moving more than usual and wouldn’t sleep. A nurse secretly called Angilee and told her to come down to the hospital.

Terry Wallis


Terry’s reaction to his roommate’s death was unusual for someone in a vegetative state, but at the time there was no explanation as to why it happened. The doctors kept telling the family that his responses were involuntary and completely random, but they knew deep down that Terry was still inside, just trying to get out.

40. A Scientific Marvel

With modern imaging technology doctors and scientists have been able to study Terry’s brain to understand just what happened and how he was able to wake up when so few professionals thought it was possible. It turns out his brain had been repairing itself.

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Terry’s brain was able to grow new connections around the damaged parts of his brain, essentially “rewiring” itself. After 19 years of being “asleep,” his brain had finally healed itself enough to wake up. Scientists are now theorizing that Terry was in a state other than vegetative and are doing tests to understand more and possibly help others in the same condition.

If you found Terry’s story moving, please feel free to SHARE it with your friends!

Source: The Telegraph

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