Gabrielle Giffords: An Update on Her Brain DamageHeather Turgeon
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords condition has “stabilized” after Saturday’s shooting in Arizona, said doctors from the University Medical Center in Tucson.
No change in her medical condition since the weekend is good news for her ability to survive the shooting.
Her prognosis in terms of brain functioning, language, possible paralysis and more depends on the path of the bullet that went through her head and the resulting swelling, say medical experts.
Giffords had brain surgery on Saturday, and doctors removed the skull on the left half of her brain to relieve the swelling. Here’s what doctors are saying about where the bullet may have traveled, and how it’s possible for people to survive and function after this kind of injury.
It turns out, surviving a shot through the head is more common than we might think:
Dr. Peter Rhee, in charge of Gifford, says that the bullet entered the back of her head and traveled the length of her brain on the left side, exiting over her left eyebrow.
He said there was some uncertainty about which structures in the brain were affected, but the bullet might have hit higher than the visual center. That would be a positive sign that she might be able to see, although he also noted that vision is complex with connections spreading throughout the brain.
As of today, Giffords is able to follow basic instructions like moving her fingers and toes — meaning the part of the brain that processes language may be intact, and that she isn’t completely paralyzed.
It’s shocking – the idea that someone could survive and continue to function after a bullet through the head. But it’s not as rare as you might think. Many cases exist in which people keep going after major brain trauma.
One of the most famous cases in history is that of Phineas Gage, a railroad worker who became one of the most important patients in neuroscience. While working one day in 1848, a tamping iron (43 inches long and 1.25 inches in diameter) shot up and ripped through his brain above his left cheek.
Gage hardly lost consciousness. He was blinded in one eye, but otherwise went on to walk and talk and function very well — the catch was that his personality was forever altered.
For now, all we know is that Giffords is stable, and that doctors are encouraged that she’s responsive. How she’ll recover skills like talking, movement, and thinking will take time to unfold.
After this kind of trauma, my thoughts go immediately to family support, because it seems key to long-term recovery. Her husband, Mark Kelly, is close by. And The New York Times reports that Giffords staff are exceptionally close to each other:
“We consider ourselves a family,” a spokesman for Giffords said earlier. “Not just a team, but a family.” Unfortunately, the gunman took the life of one of these family members, and injured two others.