15 Songs That Brought People Out of Comas
Do your friends and family members know your favorite songs? 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 patients play music that has special meaning to the person. This is known as a salient stimulus, something that is familiar and emotionally important. Stimuli like these are so powerful they can even rouse people in comas from their deep slumbers. Here are 15 songs that have done the trick.
1. Adele // “Rolling in the Deep”
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. James Blunt // “You’re Beautiful”
Five-year-old Claudia Dealwis’s parents were devastated when she fell off a friend’s balcony and fractured her skull. 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's PA system. "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. Mack & Mabel Soundtrack
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 happened to invest in West End productions, later received the opportunity to invest in an off-West End version of “Mack & Mabel.” While he didn't usually put money into off-West End shows, he made an exception.
4. Green Day // “American Idiot”
In 2005, Corey George—a massive Green Day fan—was hit by a car on his ninth birthday and was unconscious for two weeks afterward. With her son clinging to life via a life support machine, Corey's mother got the idea to play him his favorite album: American Idiot. Within an hour, Corey had opened his eyes and was wiggling his fingers and toes.
5. The Charlie Daniels Band // “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”
In 2009, Jarrett Carland spent four months in a coma after suffering through a car accident that claimed the life of his best friend and seriously injured another. Doctors weren't optimistic about Jarrett's chances of survival. 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. Robin Gibb // “Don’t Cry Alone”
In 2012, the Bee Gees's 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 Rolling Stones // “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
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 Rolling Stones's "Satisfaction" was released in 1965; he was 60 when it brought him out of a coma. Despite being given just over a 0 percent chance of survival, Carter said 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. Robbie Williams // “Angels”
You might remember the horrifying story of an Austrian woman named Kerstin Fritzl. She was in the news in 2008 when it was discovered that she had been imprisoned in a basement with her mother/sister. Her father/grandfather, Josef Fritzl, had imprisoned his daughter Elisabeth underground for 24 years 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 being held captive.
Kerstin’s trip to the hospital exposed the horrific situation she and her siblings had been living in, and her father/grandfather was sentenced to life in prison.
9. Bryan Adams
Christiane Kittel had been in a coma for six 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 near Munich and got permission from Christiane’s doctor to take her to the concert, thinking that his music might somehow reach her Adams-obsessed daughter. She was right: During the show, Christiane started moving in her wheelchair, opened her eyes, and called for her mother.
10. Jessie J // “Rainbow”
A 6-year-old girl named Tyla had to be placed into 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—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. Bon Jovi // “Livin’ on a Prayer”
David Hassall was 22 years old when he 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 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. Si Cranstoun // "Dynamo"
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, and doctors warned her children that their mom's chances of survival were just 50/50. Cheryl's family decided to place 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. Psy // "Gangnam Style"
After Ying Nan had spent 258 days in a coma caused by a brain hemorrhage, her 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. Eventually, Ying learned to speak and walk again.
14. The Righteous Brothers // "Unchained Melody"
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. Bruno Mars // "Just the Way You Are"
In 2013, Zumyah Thorpe survived a car crash that killed her pregnant mother and two sisters, but suffered a severe injury that left 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.