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Out of coma, he tries to grasp new world

The last time Terry Wallis was conscious of the world around him, Ronald Reagan was president, Bill Clinton was the governor, the Soviet Union was the enemy and the World Trade Center stood.

Injured in a car accident in 1984, he recently came out of a coma after 19 years. Only in the past two weeks has the 39-year-old Wallis realized that Reagan no longer is president, answering "I don't know" when asked who is in office. He thought the Arkansas governor was Clinton.

"He's beginning to realize he's in a different place now," said his physician, Dr. James Zini. "We never thought he'd regain this kind of cognitive level."

Wallis and a friend were in a car on July 13, 1984, when it ran off the road. The friend died; Wallis was left a quadriplegic and fell into a coma for three months.

He soon emerged partially from the coma. But for 18 years, he could communicate only by blinking his eyes or grunting.

Then, on June 13, he called out "Mom" to his mother and later asked for a Pepsi. Since then, he has steadily increased his vocabulary, and he is considered fully emerged from his stupor.

A speech therapist works with Wallis three days a week, and his doctor wants to give him more intensive physical therapy now that he can better comply with instructions. Nurses have been told to ask Wallis open-ended questions to help him develop answers beyond just "Yes" and "No."

Wallis' daughter, Amber, was 6 weeks old at the time of the accident. Wallis said it is his goal to walk for her. During a visit last month, he was able to tell her, "You're pretty" and "I love you."

His long-term memory is keen. He remembered the telephone number of a long-dead grandmother and recalled driving a car with a broken transmission in reverse.

During the past 19 years, the Wallis family would pick him up at the Stone County Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and take him home or to family functions.

Zini said that probably aided in a gradual recovery that began with him reacting to a six-figure doctor's bill.

Eighteen years ago, Wallis shook his head violently when a doctor told the family that medical bills were running about $125,000 _ as if to say the price was not acceptable, said his father, Jerry Wallis.

Later on, Wallis would react to Chevrolet TV commercials.

"He wouldn't drive a Chevrolet and when the commercials would come on the TV he'd have a fit. He'd shake his head from one side to the other and give some kind of hollering," Jerry Wallis said.

Terry Wallis regained speech last month after being in a coma since a 1984 car wreck. One of his first wants: a Pepsi.