In January, a bullet fired from point-blank range tore through her brain. Just last week, she was seen walking up the stairs of an airplane. Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords is making a remarkable recovery after a gunshot wound to the brain, doctors say. Her case shows off the brain's capability to restore some functions after substantial injury, a phenomenon called plasticity that is helped by rehabilitation.
"It's still a relatively new concept," said Dr. Sanjay Gupta, neurosurgeon and CNN chief medical correspondent. "The brain was once thought to be completely immutable" or not capable of change, after childhood.
Scientists use the term plasticity to generally refer to the brain's ability to change. We know now that it is possible to form new brain cells called neurons even in adulthood. By doing rehab to relearn basic tasks, a traumatic brain injury patient may be able to form new brain connections that allow him or her to move and talk again. How well the patient recovers depends on the severity of the damage, but substantial progress can be made in some cases.
Every year about 1.7 million people suffer a traumatic brain injury in the United States; of them, almost 80% get treatment and leave the emergency department, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.
Historically, when people had severe brain injuries and went into semi-comas or comas, they died before any brain recovery because there wasn't life support. In the 1960s, ventilators and cardiac life support helped keep people alive longer after brain injury, but for a long time, most doctors still didn't believe patients could regain much function.
It is interesting and mind boggling to think that people are able to recover after such horrifying and traumatic events as being shot. I am curious as to how exactly people are able to lead a seemingly "normal" life after much habilitation? Many of the above facts are covered in chapter 3 of our class textbook. Read here for more information on the shooting of Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords.