A consciousness scanner developed in Canada is giving hope to brain trauma patients who are trapped in their own bodies.

Researchers are currently testing the Halifax Consciousness Scanner, a device that uses words and tones to measure brain function in patients that have suffered severe trauma or stroke-induced brain injuries.

Often, these patients are thought to be in a vegetative state.

The device was used on an Ontario man, Leonard Rodrigues, who suffered brain trauma following a heart attack in 2010.

“The prognosis was that his brain was pretty much dead and he was in a vegetative state,” his wife Winifred Rodrigues told CTV News. “It was just devastating to hear.”

Convinced that her husband was conscious, but simply unable to move, Winifred reached out to the neuroscientist who’s behind the Halifax Consciousness Scanner.

Dr. Ryan D’Arcy of Simon Fraser University and Surrey Memorial Hospital said by using the device he could measure Leonard’s brain activity upon hearing his name.

“When you say Leonard, his brain is processing that you said his name,” said D’Arcy.

In developing the scanner, doctors first measure brain-wave patterns to create a picture of a healthy individual’s brain, which is then compared to the picture that is produced by an impaired brain.

Doctors are then able to determine the extent of the injuries and a long-term outlook for a patient’s recovery.  

In Leonard’s case, the test showed that while his body was damaged, his brain was intact.

“He is here. He can hear you, he can understand you and he knows what you’re saying,” said D’Arcy.

The revelation meant doctors could alter Leonard’s treatment.

“If we know you understand, then we can keep trying and keep working,” D’Arcy added. “The brain has this remarkable capacity to actually heal itself.”

After seeing the test results, Leonard began undergoing more rehabilitation.

“I believe that day he felt he was being given the dignity and respect that he deserves,” said Winifred.

She said her husband’s demeanor has since changed.

“He started to show more alertness, just trying to respond.”

The team behind the Halifax Consciousness Scanner is hoping to test the device on more brain trauma patients and eventually have units in ambulances and emergency rooms to gain accurate brain status readings of unconscious and semi-conscious patients.

Researchers are also teaming with engineers to develop a hand-held consciousness scanner and headset.

D’Arcy said part of the research involves measuring more subtle brain wave deviations that are produced by concussions. 

“As we use the Halifax Consciousness Scanner on more people with concussion, we will gain new insights into the effects of concussion,” D’Arcy said in a news release.

With a report from CTV's medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip