A woman who spent more than 20 years in a coma, robbed of her mobility, her memory and the power of speech after being knocked down by a drunk driver, has amazed doctors with a remarkable awakening.

Since 22 September 1984, Sara Scantlin had never uttered a word, her brain so badly damaged in the accident that experts said she would spend the rest of her life in her own silent world.

A week ago, her mother Betsy took a telephone call from a nurse at the care home where Sarah lives, telling her to sit down because she had a surprise for her. Then a different voice came on the line. “Hi Mom,” it said.

“I said, ‘Sarah, is that you?’ And she said, ‘Yeah,’” recalled Mrs Scantlin, of Hutchinson, Kansas.

At a loss where to start, she asked her daughter if there was anything she needed. “More make-up,” came the reply.

Sarah’s father Jim, 66, overhearing his wife’s end of the conversation, sat in his chair puzzled. “Then I realised, ‘She’s not talking about Sarah, she’s talking to Sarah,’” he said, describing his daughter’s recovery as “a miracle of the human spirit.”

Since then, Sarah’s family has put her once-void memory to numerous tests. They have listened in astonishment as she reels off the names of relatives, former pets, friends from school and dates such as her own birthday – though when her brother asked her how old she is, she guessed her age as 22. He had to inform her that she is now 38.

Sarah was 18 when she was mowed down by a drunk driver as she returned from an evening spent clubbing with friends.

The driver was sentenced to six months in jail. Sarah’s parents were told that she would never again walk, talk, or interact to any significant extent with the world around her.

Over the years they taught her to communicate loosely by blinking once for “yes” and twice for “no”, but were never sure if she could understand the questions. Then last month a therapist at the Golden Plains nursing home was teaching a patient next to Sarah to say the word “OK.” Suddenly, she heard Sarah muttering, “OK, OK.”

Desperate to surprise her parents for Valentine’s Day, Sarah begged nurses not to share the good news until today. Last week though, the excitement became too much and she picked up the telephone.

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