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Thread: The Brain That Remade Itself

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    The Brain That Remade Itself

    Doctors removed one-sixth of this child’s brain — and what was left did something incredible

    [IMG]https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/fit/c/100/100/1*WyjZKIMNRhR0pQFMCiog2g.jpeg[/IMG]



    Andrew Zaleski
    Feb 27
    [IMG]https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/2000/1*CgqmUTyf3ClZCaea6JQ7Zw.jpeg[/IMG]

    Credit: iLexx/Getty Images
    [IMG]https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/800/1*KYNZF66HmLAEn72myJ88JA.png[/IMG]I put my hand on a bishop and slide it several squares before moving it back. “Should I move a different piece instead?” I wonder to myself.
    “You have to move that piece if you’ve touched it,” my opponent says, flashing a wry grin.
    Fine. I move the bishop. It’s becoming increasingly obvious to me now — I’m going to lose a game of chess to a 12-year-old.
    My opponent is Tanner Collins, a seventh-grade student growing up in a Pittsburgh suburb. Besides playing chess, Collins likes building with Legos. One such set, a replica of Hogwarts Castle from the Harry Potter books, is displayed on a hutch in the dining room of his parents’ house. He points out to me a critical flaw in the design: The back of the castle isn’t closed off. “If you turn it around,” he says, “the whole side is open. That’s dumb.”

    [IMG]https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/1200/1*Kxd1M1OfpoCJS6iNqTKTgw.png[/IMG]

    Tanner Collins, Credit: Courtesy of Nicole CollinsThough Collins is not dissimilar from many kids his age, there is something that makes him unlike most 12-year-olds in the United States, if not the world: He’s missing one-sixth of his brain.
    Collins was three months shy of seven years old when surgeons sliced open his skull and removed a third of his brain’s right hemisphere. For two years prior, a benign tumor had been growing in the back of his brain, eventually reaching the size of a golf ball. The tumor caused a series of disruptive seizures that gave him migraines and kept him from school. Medications did little to treat the problem and made Collins drowsy. By the day of his surgery, Collins was experiencing daily seizures that were growing in severity. He would collapse and be incontinent and sometimes vomit, he says.
    When neurologists told Collins’ parents, Nicole and Carl, that they could excise the seizure-inducing areas of their son’s brain, the couple agreed. “His neurologist wasn’t able to control his seizures no matter what medication she put him on,” Nicole says. “At that point, we were desperate… His quality of life was such that the benefits outweighed the risks.”
    Surgeons cut out the entire right occipital lobe and half of the temporal lobe of Collins’ brain. Those lobes are important for processing the information that passes through our eyes’ optic nerves, allowing us to see. These regions are also critical for recognizing faces and objects and attaching corresponding names. There was no way of being sure whether Collins would ever see again, recognize his parents, or even develop normally after the surgery.
    And then the miraculous happened: Despite the loss of more than 15 percent of his brain, Collins turned out to be fine.
    “We’re looking at the entire remapping of the function of one hemisphere onto the other.”
    The one exception is the loss of peripheral vision in his left eye. Though this means Collins will never legally be able to drive, he compensates for his blind spot by moving his head around, scanning a room to create a complete picture. “It’s not like it’s blurred or it’s just black there. It’s, like, all blended,” Collins tells me when I visit him at home in January. “So, it’s like a Bob Ross painting.”
    Today, Collins is a critical puzzle piece in an ongoing study of how the human brain can change. That’s because his brain has done something remarkable: The left side has assumed all the responsibilities and tasks of his now largely missing right side.
    Not where I breathe, but where I love, I live...
    Robert Southwell, S.J.

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    This is truly fascinating stuff. It's what we've been working on for me sister...getting the right side to take over some of the functions that the damaged left side did. Since the left side of her brain was damaged, her right side must take over some of those functions. Since music is dealt with on the right side, I'm convinced that integrating music has been key to "amping up" the neuroplasticity on the right side of her brain, thereby helping her to maximize that functionality.

    Gosh, I really wish I had gone into neuroscience when I was young. It's so fascinating!
    Not where I breathe, but where I love, I live...
    Robert Southwell, S.J.

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    Incredible stuff. I recently read that electrical impulses in the brain will "jump" from one area to another, without being connected to each other. How does that electrical jump "know" where it wants to land if there is no connection?

    Mark
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    Quote Originally Posted by phillygirl View Post
    This is truly fascinating stuff. It's what we've been working on for me sister...getting the right side to take over some of the functions that the damaged left side did. Since the left side of her brain was damaged, her right side must take over some of those functions. Since music is dealt with on the right side, I'm convinced that integrating music has been key to "amping up" the neuroplasticity on the right side of her brain, thereby helping her to maximize that functionality.

    Gosh, I really wish I had gone into neuroscience when I was young. It's so fascinating!
    Long article but very interesting. We have friends who have a 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter who is experiencing seizures basically out-of-the-blue. They ended up taking her over to Denver's Children's Hospital and she stayed for a week. She lost her ability to speak, sit, walk, run and move her arms and legs correctly. After all of the testing was finished, she came home with meds. She is now standing, walking and can clap her hands. Her speech isn't perfect but it gets better every day. They still haven't found the cause of her seizures but she's down to about 3 a week instead of 7 to 12 a day. Also, according to Laura's Drs, they might never have an answer as to why she has seizures.

    While Katie and Jose Manuel were there, they said they learned so much about how the human brain works that they could've stayed there longer just listening to the Drs...who also gave them books to read on the subject. They are much like you, Philly and find the whole experience of neuroscience fascinating!
    May we raise children who love the unloved things - the dandelion, the worm, the spiderlings.
    Children who sense the rose needs the thorn and run into rainswept days the same way they turn towards the sun...
    And when they're grown and someone has to speak for those who have no voice,
    may they draw upon that wilder bond, those days of tending tender things and be the one.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Michele View Post
    Long article but very interesting. We have friends who have a 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter who is experiencing seizures basically out-of-the-blue. They ended up taking her over to Denver's Children's Hospital and she stayed for a week. She lost her ability to speak, sit, walk, run and move her arms and legs correctly. After all of the testing was finished, she came home with meds. She is now standing, walking and can clap her hands. Her speech isn't perfect but it gets better every day. They still haven't found the cause of her seizures but she's down to about 3 a week instead of 7 to 12 a day. Also, according to Laura's Drs, they might never have an answer as to why she has seizures.

    While Katie and Jose Manuel were there, they said they learned so much about how the human brain works that they could've stayed there longer just listening to the Drs...who also gave them books to read on the subject. They are much like you, Philly and find the whole experience of neuroscience fascinating!
    It really is amazing. What I found so interesting when my sister was in the hospital was how often and open the doctors were about saying how there is so much that they don't know about the brain.

    We were at the neurosurgeon yesterday. The nurse practitioner is a friend of my sister's. She again cried when seeing my sister...this time tears of joy. I told her she was like Barbara Walters, always doing interviews until she made everyone in the room cry! She blurted out to my sister "you were a Hess score 5...people like that don't survive!". My sister looked at her, smiled, and said "I know. I'm a miracle." It was the sweetest thing (we tell her that all the time, as she obviously has no memory of it, and quite frankly, has little memory even of the 6 weeks she spent in rehab).

    All I can say for your friends is that the work is never done and there is always the possibility of progress. Never give up, and never slow down. I know I'm a pain in the butt to my sister, because I'm constantly trying to make her play games, exercise her body, and do "homework" such as math and language problems. I keep telling her that it won't work if it's easy, so she has to sit and do the hard part of recovery, even if it makes her tired or frustrated. I try to give her easier math to do in her head right before she goes to sleep. I like her to have "victories" at the end of the day, with just a few zingers to stretch her brain before sleeping. Even though she's really tired at night, I've found that those 5 or 10 minutes when she's winding down before sleeping are a great time for us to have our sister talks and to do math in her head. First thing in the morning, before I leave for work, we work on more structured language worksheets and more complicated written math equations. I've also started creating "to do" lists for her and her caregiver each day to make sure that they're not just watching t.v. and eating lunch all day.

    Please tell your friends to incorporate music as much as they can. It really seems to help!
    Not where I breathe, but where I love, I live...
    Robert Southwell, S.J.

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    Quote Originally Posted by phillygirl View Post

    Please tell your friends to incorporate music as much as they can. It really seems to help!
    All music can be useful but Baroque music seems to have a particular ability to "wake up" the brain and encourage new pathways. The listener may not follow or even like the complex repetitions but the listener's brain will like it a lot.

    Even for people with ordinary brains, listening to Bach (or similar) while trying to master a new task will make learning easier.

    Familiar music "wakes up" memory and positive associations. Strong rhythms seem to help some coordination problems. "Weird" music (like classical Japanese music if you aren't familiar with it) seems to stimulate a lot of brain regions.

    Complex music, math, and language seem to be related in the brain in a deep way that isn't very well understood.
    "Alexa, slaughter the fatted calf."

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