The laughter started when her son, Mark, 7, began cracking jokes to see if he could get a response. Since then Mark and his sister Shaunagh, 11, have been trying different jokes to get her to chuckle again, and her 34-year-old husband, also called Mark, is hoping that she can spend her first Christmas at home since the accident in October 2004.
Although Mrs Brushneen is still in a coma, her family have raised £75,000 to convert their house to allow her to spend time at home.
Mr Brushneen, 34, said: “The kids and I were sitting around the bedside and Mark just began cracking jokes . . . they were just childish things and little family in-jokes but, amazingly, she began to laugh. We couldn’t believe it. It has lifted everyone’s spirits.
“We had only really ever communicated by nods and smiles before and we hadn’t heard her voice in two years. It was a very emotional moment.”
Mr Brushneen, a former postman who has given up his job to care for his wife, said: “Technically, Andrea is still in a coma but she is responsive . . . the children are always looking for new jokes and running around like clowns to make her laugh.
“The improvement in her has been amazing and it’s lifted everyone. We are all hopeful that soon she might start talking and that this is the first step of many.”
Andrea spent months in the Gloucestershire Royal Hospital in a critical condition after the crash. She was moved to the Ermin Neurological Centre in Gloucester for specialist care in June last year.
Her only reaction to visitors had been the occasional blink or smile. Four months ago doctors decided to remove the breathing tube from her throat and her condition has improved gradually ever since.
Mr Brushneen added: “It happened pretty much straight away.
“She certainly seems to be quicker to laugh and smile. There were days when you could see she was in a bad mood, but we have not had one of those since.”
The accident happened soon after the family had moved to Sleaford, Lincolnshire. Afterwards they returned to her home city to be nearer her family. Yesterday she made her first visit to her newly adapted home in Gloucester.
Eventually Mrs Brushneen will return home for good with her husband as her full-time carer.
Mr Brushneen said: “At the moment, we are just all so excited. Words can’t describe how we feel about the family being together again.
“It’s going to be wonderful when the kids can say good night to their mummy and go to bed knowing she is in the same house.”
- The depth of a coma is measured using the Glasgow Coma Scale, a points system based on eye movements, spoken responses and other physical movement
- The maximum score of 15, represents a fully awake person, and the minimum score of 3 represents no response to external stimuli
- A patient such as Mrs Brushneen would be likely to score between 9 and 12, which puts her in the moderate coma range
- A patient in this range is likely to be aware of pain and able to make eye movements and limited verbal responses
Sources: Institute of Neurological Sciences, Glasgow - The Times