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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Gabrielle Giffords' Brain Injury: FAQ

Giffords Recovering from Point-Blank Gunshot to Head

Will Giffords survive? continued...

Black says he's seen patients who have been shot in the head make amazing recoveries.

"We have had patients who have been shot in the head and were able to return to their previous occupations and are functioning near normal," he says. "This may have to occur on a gradual basis. ... The brain will continue to recover for six to 18 months."

The parts of the brain destroyed by the bullet are gone forever. But other injured areas may recover.

"Some brain cells now in shock are still alive and those cells will go ahead and recover once the initial trauma is resolved," Black says. "The cells that were destroyed and died, the surrounding areas will try to take over those functions by making new connections. And there are stem cells in the brain that can come out and regenerate some of the tissue."

Brooks notes that while the brain cells destroyed during Giffords' injury are gone, the damage may be limited.

"A bullet wound is more like a stroke than a blow to the head from a car wreck, because the tissue damage is so circumscribed," he says. "The potential for recovery is greater for the tissue that didn't get taken out."

Will Giffords recover?

As Flamm notes, survival is one thing and recovery is another. It's very rare for a person with extensive brain damage -- such as that caused by a bullet -- to regain all of the abilities and functions he or she had before the injury.

So far, the news from Giffords' bedside is good. But until she is formally evaluated by a team of rehabilitation specialists, the extent of her disabilities remains unclear.

Nina Zeldis, PhD, taught rehabilitation medicine at Israel's Tel Aviv University for more than 20 years. She notes that people who, like Giffords, have suffered damage to the left side of the brain tend to have:

  • difficulty speaking and understanding speech
  • difficulty reading
  • increased impulsivity
  • lack of emotional control
  • decreased problem-solving ability
  • diminished long-term planning
  • problems with hand/eye coordination

"The things we do every day and don't think about, all these things we think of as little become enormous and difficult to do," Zeldis says.

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