Posted On: February 8, 2012 by Stephen Bilkis

Gifford’s Recovery from Attack that Left Her Brain Damaged

The human brain has an amazing capacity to heal itself. Every year, about 1.7 million people suffer a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the U.S. Like so many other victims of TBI, U.S. Representative Giffords is reportedly making remarkable progress.

Last January, an attacker shot Representative Gabby Giffords at point blank range. The bullet shot through her brain, wreaking havoc.

Just last week, she was seen walking up the stairs of an airplane. It took quite a bit of effort an she had assistants available to help her if she needed it. The Representative’s ordeal is the perfect showcase for brain plasticity – the brain’s amazing capability to restore some functions after major brain injury. Proper rehabilitation helps this process of the brain’s.

CNN’s chief medical correspondent and neurosurgeon Dr. Sanjay Gupta said, "It's still a relatively new concept. The brain was once thought to be completely immutable." The immutability, or inability of change, was thought to be the brains permanent state after childhood.

The professor of neurology and neurological surgery at Columbia University, Dr. Stephen Mayer said, “"I'm still amazed from time to time at how well people do, and I think that we have simply underestimated the resilience and regenerative capacity in the human brain." A reporter says that Dr. Mayer has not treated Giffords.

The scientific term “plasticity” generally refers to the brain’s ability to change and it’s now known that, even in adulthood, new brain cells called neurons can be formed. Rehab and relearning basic tasks can be the tool utilized to ensure a TBI patient can form those new brain connections. Each patient’s overall recovery depends on the severity of the damage, but substantial progress can be made in some cases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Queens and Staten Island, of the 1.7 million who suffer TBI annually, 80% receive initial treatment and leave the emergency department. A New York Brain Injury Lawyer reports that in the past, severe brain injury patients who went into a coma or semi-coma died before regaining any function because life support was not available. With the advent of ventilators and cardiac life support in the 1960s, patients could live longer after brain injury, but it was still common thought that the brain would not renew itself.
Dr. Mayer says, “We're now sort of entering an era when we realize the brain is not that different from the rest of the body” in its ability to heal.