Brain Injuries: Surviving a Gunshot Wound to the Head, Part One

Americans have been amazed by the news regarding U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Although there are many reasons her story has been headlining papers for the past week, we would like to focus on the effects of a gunshot wound to the head, and what doctors, patients and family members face when dealing with a traumatic brain injury.

There are varying degrees of damage individuals can suffer after a brain injury. Patients may lose communication or motor skills, their personality may be altered and they may have difficulty processing information. Brain injuries can be a result of a hard hit in a football game, an impact in a car accident, incorrectly administered anesthesia or in the congresswoman’s case, a bullet to the brain.

Reporters have been interviewing brain surgeons and doctors in order to learn more about the recovery process and the likelihood that Giffords will survive. So far, doctors are cautiously optimistic that the congresswoman will live; it is just a matter of time before they can gauge the timeline for recovery. Often, the recovery process depends on exactly what parts of the brain were damaged and how severely. Doctors also said that even patients with similar injuries can recover at a different pace. Brain injuries are still very much a mystery in the medical field.

As far as surviving being shot in the head, Giffords has already conquered those odds. Nine out of 10 people die from their injuries, many before even making it to the hospital. A neurosurgeon working in Orlando mentioned that he sees bullet-wounds to the brain every week now as a result of more gun violence in the cities. He said the most critical factors of an initial gunshot wound are: the type of bullet, the type of gun and the path of the bullet.

A bullet can either injure the brain by causing immediate damage from traveling through tissue, or by causing secondary damage from a shock wave effect. In most cases, if a bullet travels through both hemispheres of the brain, the damage is fatal.

Brain injuries are complex, and as we mentioned before, mysterious. Personal injury attorneys in Florida have seen many serious brain injuries resulting from devastating accidents. They are experienced with the effects such injuries can have on victims and their families. We will continue this discussion of Gabrielle Giffords and her gunshot wound to the head next week.

The Arizona Republic: “Gabrielle Giffords faces uncertain future after being shot in the head,” Ken Alltucker, 12 Jan. 2011
Orlando Sentinel: “Doctors: How can a patient survive a bullet through the brain?” Linda Shrieves, 10 Jan. 2011