Dr. Amen on Dr. Phil: Drug Abuse, Suicide Attempt, Anoxia, Coma. Can This Brain Be Saved?

anoxic brain injuries

Recently, Dr. Daniel Amen was invited to consult on a tragic case that was presented on the Dr. Phil Show. Two years ago, at age 35, Josh was intoxicated on drugs when he stole his mother’s car and credit card. She called the police and had him arrested. In the bathroom at the jail, Josh used the laces of his shoes to hang himself.

Josh physically survived his suicide attempt, but his brain was severely damaged from anoxia—a prolonged deprivation of oxygen.

The Devastation of Anoxic Brain Injuries

The brain is the most oxygen-hungry organ in the body. It uses 20% of the body’s total oxygen and it takes only a few minutes for a complete lack of oxygen to do horrible damage to the brain. Hanging and strangulation are not the only causes of anoxic brain injuries—they can also be caused by:

The length of time that the brain goes without oxygen plays an important role in the prognosis of recovery. However, with a massive brain injury like the one Josh sustained, most people become completely incapacitated with a very limited ability for any type of recovery.

Anoxic Brain Injuries

SPECT surface scan that represents a case of anoxia. Notable decreases in blood flow throughout.


Josh’s case is very sad indeed. For the past 2 years, he has been in a nursing home in a persistent vegetative state, kept alive by a feeding tube. He does not move, except through the brain stem reflexes of breathing, blinking, and coughing. His nervous system is deteriorating causing an increase in seizures, his hands are tightly balled, and his arms and legs are bent but rigid.

After reviewing the medical records and learning more about the history of this terrible situation, Dr. Amen weighed in with his thoughts, based on his decades of medical practice using brain SPECT imaging. He explained that when the brain loses oxygen, brain cells quickly begin to die. Of the 170,000 SPECT scans done at Amen Clinics, the patients with anoxic injuries who have been scanned have the most severe brain damage he has seen.

Dr. Amen also pointed out that with anoxia, the earlier interventions are done, such as hyperbaric oxygen treatment, infrared light therapy, or certain nutrients, the better the chance of reversing some of the injuries. However, in Josh’s case, Dr. Amen thinks the chance for any kind of recovery at this point is less than 1%, and that even if his brain could improve a little, Josh will never be Josh again. He would likely have a very, very low I.Q. because his brain is essentially dead.

What complicates this awful situation, even more, is that Josh’s wife, Meagan, and his mother, Kelly, disagree on how to proceed after 2 years of seeing Josh in this condition. Meagan wants to bring him home, remove the feeding tube and let him pass away. Kelly, on the other hand, refuses to allow this and holds out hope that there will be some miraculous treatment that can improve his brain function.

Even though he is still alive, Josh’s family has been grieving him in a way for nearly 2 years now. Without any resolution of the situation, they all are living with the chronic stress of unresolved grief.

Grief and Loss Dragons

In his new book, Your Brain is Always Listening, Dr. Amen writes about the inner dragons that breathe fire on our emotional brain (the amygdala). There are 13 different “Dragons from the Past” that evolve from the personal stories we tell ourselves based on our earlier experiences in life.

We all have at least a few dragons, and most people have Grief and Loss Dragons. These show up as a normal reaction to losing someone we love, something important, or an attachment to ideas of what could have been. Like all dragons, they can be tamed with the right strategies, and it starts with accepting the reality of the loss and going through the healing process.

For Josh’s family, the Grief and Loss Dragons are definitely breathing fire on everyone’s emotional brain. And sadly, these dragons can’t be tamed while he’s still alive. This drawn-out process will likely spawn Hopeless and Helpless Dragons as well as the Angry Dragons until this family can come to an agreement about what is best for Josh and for themselves.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Your Brain Is Always Listening is written by psychiatrist, neuroscientist, and New York Times bestselling author Daniel G. Amen, MD. In this book, Dr. Amen equips you with powerful weapons to battle the inner dragons that are breathing fire on your brain, driving unhealthy behaviors, and robbing you of your joy and contentment. Order your copy here.

If you want to join the tens of thousands of Amen Clinics patients who have already tamed their dragons and overcome their symptoms of addiction, anxiety, depression, trauma, and more, speak to a specialist today at 888-609-4318 or visit our contact page here.


  1. Prayers Love & Healing to ALL involved in this tragedy!!!🙏🏼😇🙏🏼❤️🤗

    Comment by Mynette — March 11, 2021 @ 1:02 AM

  2. Unaddressed sleep apnea may offer anorexia. My partner rated only 70 % during a sleep test. How many years has he done that? Probably over 30 before he agreed to medical help.

    Comment by Millicent Hughes — March 17, 2021 @ 3:17 AM

  3. 🙏🏻😢💔 I’m so sorry for your loss Kelly. I don’t blame you one bit for holding on. I would rather die than live after my son leaving this world. With that said, I attempted suicide, and I was in a coma for three weeks. I didn’t want to come back to my body. I loved being free of the physical and psychological pain. Your son is not suffering anymore. And he is with God. And if his lesson wasn’t learned yet he would be back in his body. No one can understand the torture that somebody is experiencing before they pull the plug in this world. It’s absolute torture that is experienced when somebody is committing suicide. They’re suffering so badly that if you knew you would not blame them for taking their life. It’s an active self compassion. When you’re in such a cute pain you can’t think outside yourself and how others are going to be affected by your actions. I pray for you Kelly, I pray you will be comforted in knowing you will see your boy again , fully and holy complete, in heaven soon enough. He is no longer suffering and for that we can be grateful for. He doesn’t want you to suffer and worry. He wants you to enjoy your life. His soul didn’t plan a long life here. He got his lesson and he’s a thought away in the heavenly realm. Trust me, you don’t want to come back here once you’ve experienced even a nano second of the light and love of our heavenly Home in God. Take your time with your son and don’t let anyone rush you. He will come to you and you will have peace when you the time is right. He’s right there with you. Believe in your heart , he is with you always and in all ways. He is in peace… And wants you to be at peace as well. The Truth will set you Free.

    Comment by colleen - — March 17, 2021 @ 3:44 AM

  4. Prayers and Blessings for Josh & his family. May God grace this tragedy with his miraculous love and healing.

    Comment by Vanessa Derks — March 17, 2021 @ 5:12 AM

  5. I have been in so many situations where the air quality has been so poor In camps with propane heat and not properly vented sleeping in gasoline powered trucks engine running in cold weather. Lack of proper sleep in 2019 had a seizure sitting in front of tv. After MRI told I have had 2 strokes scar tissue on the brain. On seizure medication my head brain feels better. Still forgetting lots. Does me good to print this out. Also taking small aspirin and d3. Needed seizure medicine 60 years ago. Thanks Dan

    Comment by Dan O — March 17, 2021 @ 7:51 AM

  6. I would love to learn about oxygen needs in the still-healing (not acute) brain, long term use of nasal oxygen for instance. I am using that via an oxygen concentrator and got rid of a seven year dizziness since a head injury, within a month. Further steady benefit with long term use. I have learned that a healing brain ,especially a cerebellum, needs an extraordinary amount of O2, which CAN BE SUPPLIED WITH A MACHINE AND PRONGS. THAT is a beautiful thing and I want to know what research there may be on the topic. (Docs need research info before they will prescribe as they still live in the belief that brains cannot heal, and sadly the only way to access O2 is with a prescription).

    Comment by Herather — March 28, 2021 @ 10:50 AM

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Contact Us