Friday, October 24, 2008

Medical Miracles - 5 Amazing Stories of Human Recovery

In a world where significant advances in modern medicine are continually occurring, stories of amazing trauma survival are becoming exceedingly more commonplace. However, some of these stories stand out in the crowd, and I have compiled five stories that I found to be the most extraordinary, including one particular case that has stunned scientists for decades. So, I present to you (in no particular order), five medical miracles!

1) Knife in the Skull

The largest object ever to be successfully removed from a human's brain was an 8 inch (20.32 cm) knife from the head of a middle-aged man, Michael Hill. Hill was answering the door at a friend’s residence when a strange attacker plunged a survival knife into his skull. After the attack, Hill walked down the street to another friend’s house, where he was driven to the hospital and, after four hours, had the knife removed. Hill didn’t even have an infection, and was well enough to leave the hospital after only a week. Since his attack, Hill’s memory isn’t the same and he requires medication to prevent seizures. (

(Image taken from

2) Woman Survives Internal Decapitation

Shannon Malloy, a 30 year old woman from Nebraska, was involved in a horrific car crash in January 2007 in which she was thrown up against the vehicle’s dashboard and her spine was separated from her skull. She was rushed to a hospital where doctors immediately drilled screws in Malloy’s neck and placed a halo around her head for added support and protection. During the process, Malloy recalled “feeling her skull slip off her neck about five times”. She also suffered from a fractured skull, swollen brain stem, cranial bleeding, and nerve damage in her eyes. Doctors were stunned, repeatedly exclaiming that they had never seen that injury before in a person that’s alive, and suggested the family say their goodbyes and mentally prepare for the worst. Malloy, however, beat the odds and is now in recovery, and has even had her halo removed. (

3) Tumor Removed From Unborn Baby

Four months into Keri McCartney’s pregnancy, she had an ultrasound that uncovered a tumor growing on her baby’s tailbone that was nearly the size of the baby herself. The growth was stealing the baby’s blood, weakening her heart, and, needless to say, putting both the baby and mother in extreme danger. McCartney, determined to save the life of her baby, journeyed to Texas Childrens’ Hospital in Houston, where surgeons performed a surgery on her baby that had only a 10% chance of success. Surgeons anesthetized McCartney, opened her womb, and extracted about 80% of her baby’s body, leaving only her head and upper body inside. The surgeons removed the tumor after operating for 20 minutes, and then returned the baby to the womb. The baby continued to develop inside the womb, until she was born healthy ten weeks later. (

4) Woman "Returns from Dead"

Doctors across the country are astounded with the case of Val Thomas. Thomas, an elderly woman from West Virginia, suffered two heart attacks and was rushed to a nearby hospital, where she had no brain waves for more than 17 hours. A respiratory machine had kept her breathing and rigor mortis had set in when her family was called upon to discuss the possibility of organ donation. Ten minutes after the conversation started, Thomas woke up and started talking. She was later taken to another clinic, where specialists were stunned when they found no blockage and expect her to make a full recovery. (,2933,357463,00.html)

5) The Case of Phineas Gage

On September 13th, 1848, Phineas Gage, the foreman of a railway construction gang near Cavendish, Vermont, was a victim in an accidental explosion in which his tamping iron ( 3 ft. 7 inches long, 1 ¼ inches in diameter, and weighing 13 ½ pounds) went through his head. The tamping iron went in point first under his left cheek bone and completely out through the top of his head, landing about 25 yards behind him. Even though most of the frontal lobe of the left side of his brain was destroyed, he was treated so well that he returned home ten weeks later. However, his friends complained of a drastic change in his personality and mood. He developed extravagant and anti-social tendencies, and became known as a liar with bad manners that did not have the ability to keep a job or plan for the future. He died from an epileptic seizure twelve years later. (

(Image taken from


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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Prevalent Neurological Disorders

Multiple Sclerosis is thought to be an auto-immune disorder in which the immune system attacks the myelin sheath that surrounds axons within the brain. Myelin is a phospholipids that insulates axons and allows for quicker conduction of action potentials, or nerve impulses, which cause the brain to communicate with the rest of the body in order to produce a function. Without myelin, these action potentials cannot be conducted properly, and even the simplest of functions fail. The symptoms are widespread throughout the body including involuntary eye twitches, difficulty with coordination, speech problems, unstable mood, and chronic pain. While multiple sclerosis is not considered a genetically heritable disease, there may be a genetic disposition which makes a person more susceptible to developing the disease. Currently there is no cure.

Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative form of dementia. It is caused by a mis-folding of an amyloid protein resulting in a build-up of plaques throughout the brain. Additionally, there is a major loss of neurons (which produce action potentials) and atrophy within the frontal portion of the brain. While the exact cause of the disease is unknown, there are many hypotheses as to what bring about the onset of Alzheimer’s, including a reduction in the synthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is essential for the proper conduction of action potentials. Researchers are also investigating the possibility that the amyloid protein plaques are at the root of the disease. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s include confusion, mood swings, long-term memory loss, and a general withdrawal from society. While there are currently three drugs approved for Alzheimer’s treatment, none of them show a drastic reduction in the symptoms or a slowing in the progression of the disease.
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Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disease of the central nervous system caused by decreased production of dopamine. Dopamine is a prominent neurotransmitter involved in motor control which is centered in the basal ganglia within the motor cortex. The major symptoms of the disease are rigidity, inability to retain proper posture, and the characteristic tremors known as Parkinsonism. In addition to the well known symptoms, patients suffer from insomnia, dementia, slowed reaction time, degradation of visual function, and unintelligible speech. The majority of Parkinson’s cases have no known cause; however, some genetic connections have been made, as well as cases caused by toxins and head trauma. There is currently no known cure.

Major depressive disorder, also known as clinical depression, is a disease that has been classified as both psycho- and physiological. While the disease varies widely throughout society, the common major cause is reduced levels of serotonin and norepinephrine, which are neurotransmitters within the brain that regulate synaptic communication. Additionally, clinical depression may be connected to degeneration of neurons within the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for mood. However, there are also thought to be psychological causes for depression such as low self-esteem and a self-defeating attitude. Symptoms by which depression is diagnosed are an overall feeling of helplessness, weight-loss, anxiety, and fatigue. Currently, there are many varieties of anti-depressant medications that curb the effects of the disease, as well as psychotherapy. However, there is no true cure.

The following video will help you to learn the anatomy of these neurological diseases…

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