flesl.net paired story 2-5b (Richard Coman)

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Richard Coman

Richard Coman was born in 1964. Until 2004, he lived with his parents, who were then in their seventies, in the village of Tunstead, near the city of Norwich, in south-eastern England.

Richard’s height and weight were normal for an adult. He weighed about 75 kilograms and he was about 170 centimeters tall. But although Richard looked like an adult, he behaved like a very young child. He enjoyed running and playing with toys. He liked going for car rides but he wasn’t allowed to play outside by himself because he didn’t understand that cars are dangerous. He could talk, but only in a child-like way. He couldn’t get dressed by himself; he couldn’t wash himself; and he had to wear diapers.

Richard behaved like a child because his brain had been damaged when he was born.

Joan Coman, Richard’s mother, had no problems while she was pregnant with Richard. But when the time came for him to be born, he didn’t arrive. When Joan was more than one week overdue, the doctors at the Norwich hospital gave her some medicine. They hoped this would induce birth, but it didn’t work. After giving Joan the medicine, they did nothing more for two weeks. Then, when Joan was three weeks overdue, they finally delivered Richard by ‘caesarian section’—an operation in which doctors deliver a baby by cutting open its mother’s uterus.

Richard was weak when he was born, but he soon got stronger and, Joan remembers, he was a beautiful baby when he was brought home from the hospital. At that time, Joan and Sidney thought that Richard was normal. The doctors in the hospital had told them nothing about why Richard’s birth was delayed for so long. Later though, Joan did remember overhearing one of the doctors ask another why Mrs Coman had not been operated on sooner. That was the only hint she had at the beginning that Richard might not be normal.

Soon however, Joan and Sidney realized that something was wrong. Their neighbours had a baby that was just two weeks older than Richard. A long time after that baby had begun to move around and do things, Richard was still lying quietly in his bed. He lay in bed for almost two years. Then, suddenly, Joan says, he got up and started to run around. He didn’t go through a period of crawling as most babies do.

When Richard was four years old his parents took him to a famous children’s hospital in London. By that time they felt quite certain that he was abnormal because he had been injured at birth but, still, they had not been told anything by the hospital in Norwich. The doctors in London confirmed their belief and told them there was nothing they could do to help Richard.

Later, Richard’s parents learned that during the final weeks of her pregnancy, Joan’s uterus had been dry. Usually a pregnant woman’s uterus is filled with a watery liquid called ‘amniotic fluid.’ Her unborn baby is suspended in this liquid. If this amniotic fluid drains away, but the baby stays in the uterus, then the baby is often injured.