The father of a man left in a vegetative state after a horrific sectarian assault hopes that a major technological breakthrough will one day help his son to communicate again.
Paul McCauley’s father was speaking after an astounding medical advancement enabled a Canadian man in a similar condition and others to respond via an MRI scanner.
The pioneering treatment proved that Scott Routley had an awareness of his surroundings and was conscious.
Mr McCauley (35) is receiving 24-hour care at a residential home in his native Londonderry where his family visit him every day.
The former civil servant had been enjoying a barbecue with two friends in the garden of a house in the Waterside when his attackers struck in the early hours of July 16, 2006.
The loyalist gang of up to 15 men jumped out of bushes and carried out what police have said was a savage and totally unprovoked attack. Detectives launched a fresh investigation last year and have issued repeated appeals for those with information in unionist areas of the city to come forward.
To date, however, just one person has been prosecuted in relation to the attack.
The premeditated attack left Paul, a volunteer with Foyle Search and Rescue, close to death while his friends also sustained severe injuries.
Speaking about the new developments which were featured in a BBC Panorama programme, Paul’s father Jim said: “We will be following developments now very closely.
“I suppose the first things I would want to know is if he knew, if he recognised us as family or just people who visit him.
“I want to know if he is in pain or discomfort to identify what can be done.
“He can’t communicate at present, but I can see what I think is frustration on his face at times and we can detect pain at times, when he becomes more tense.
“Technology is advancing all the time. You live in hope.
“You can’t abandon hope for it is the hope that keeps you going.”
How it works
Doctors look at the patterns of responses from specific parts of the brain, via an MRI scanner, to see if a physically unresponsive person has retained functions which are not otherwise apparent. Patients are put under a scanner and asked to imagine doing a task such as playing tennis, which triggers the same brain response as if a person were actually playing tennis. This has led medics to conclude that there are some patients in a vegetative state who have an awareness of themselves and others and a capacity to communicate.