Brain Injury Leads to "Accidental Genius"

GMA has a really interesting article about a female rancher in Colorado who suffered a traumatic brain injury and is now an "accidental genius" in art and music.

[N]ow she is a gifted artist and poet. She enjoys spending time puzzling over mathematical equations. She can “see” sounds and “hear” colors when she listens to music, although she is extremely sensitive to light.

She remembers nothing about her prior life. She doesn’t even recognize her own mother.

The brain works in such interesting and at times unexpected ways. There are stroke victims who suffer from aphasia who cannot speak in words but can sing them.[More...]

When I was a very young lawyer, I represented a 31 year old who suffered an aneurysm that left her aphasic and a quadriplegic. She only had partial use one arm. Her words came out completely garbled. At the time of her aneurysm, she and her husband had a 1 1/2 year old daughter. Her husband was devoted to her -- for a year until he fell in love her nurse. After divorcing her and marrying the nurse, he was no longer willing to bring the toddler to see her mother. So the family wanted the Court to order visitation.

When the family retained me, the woman had been in a rehab facility for a while and progressed to living in an apartment with roommates. When she spoke, it was was like she had rocks in her mouth and I couldn't understand her. I spent a lot of time with her, and learned she could sing.

When the day came for the court hearing, I called her as a witness. A nurse wheeled her into the courtroom and placed her at the witness box. After confirming her name and that she had a daughter, I asked her how she felt about her daughter. In a voice as clear as a bell, and in perfect pitch, she sang out "You Are the Sunshine of My Life." Everyone in the courtroom had tears in their eyes, including the Judge.

We won the hearing and her ex-husband was ordered to bring her daughter to visit her every other Sunday afternoon.

This brain injured teen who was put on life support after the doctors said she was brain dead is now graduating from high school. She regained the ability to walk and do almost all the things she could do before the injury.

In related news, Olympic Swimmer Amy Van Dyken, paralyzed from the waist down a year ago, was able to stand on her own for the first time this week.

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  • Display: Sort:
    I know there's a word (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Repack Rider on Fri May 15, 2015 at 12:56:35 PM EST
    ...for aphasia, but I can never think of it.

    You're no doubt thinking of (none / 0) (#3)
    by Zorba on Fri May 15, 2015 at 02:34:19 PM EST
    Dysnomia, also known as anomic aphasia, or a word-finding disability.  You know when you have a word "on the tip of your tongue," but just cannot retrieve it?
    That happens to dysnomics all the time.

    Reminds Me of... (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by ScottW714 on Fri May 15, 2015 at 02:28:27 PM EST
    ...the case we all read about in health class:

    Phineas P. Gage (1823 - May 21, 1860) was an American railroad construction foreman remembered for his improbable survival of an accident in which a large iron rod was driven completely through his head, destroying much of his brain's left frontal lobe, and for that injury's reported effects on his personality and behavior over the remaining twelve years of his life--​effects so profound that (for a time at least) friends saw him as "no longer Gage."

    There was also a movie in which the doctor touched his fingers of each hand through the hole in Gage's skull.

    On Netflix there is a series about the brain.  They were demonstrating how if someone is injured and say losses sight, the brain starts rewiring itself so that the area that processes images can start processing sounds or smells.  

    It's not that blind people have better senses, but their brain is wiring itself to dedicate more processing power to those inputs.

    The brain is beyond remarkable, how it manages to process some things and figure out which ones require immediate reaction, like a hot stove, while others sent for further brain processing, like a car horn.

    Forget space... (5.00 / 3) (#4)
    by kdog on Fri May 15, 2015 at 02:50:10 PM EST
    forget the ocean floor...the human brain is the final frontier.  

    I don't think a full understanding of the workings and capabilities of the human brain will ever be achieved...we will colonize Jupiter first.

    That is Good... (none / 0) (#5)
    by ScottW714 on Fri May 15, 2015 at 02:55:00 PM EST
    ...if they figure it out they will replace it with a better model.

    I think they will eventually (none / 0) (#6)
    by Zorba on Fri May 15, 2015 at 03:33:22 PM EST
    "Figure it out," although it will take many years.
    Don't worry about it.  Before that happens, the computers and the robots will have taken everything over, anyway.  They will be the "better model."    ;-)

    That is Exactly What I Was Suggesting (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by ScottW714 on Fri May 15, 2015 at 04:40:13 PM EST
    They will never figure it out entirely, not enough to clone it electronically, or whatever the technology of time is that can mimic the human brain.

    That would mean artificial consciousness, the implication would essentially mean organic life would be just another dinosaur in the evolutionary chain.

    Machine made life forms would inhabit every corner of the universe as they would not be restricted by space and time, temperature, radiation, or the things that keep life as we know it, fairly confined.

    In my opinion of course.


    This is fascinating, although (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by Zorba on Fri May 15, 2015 at 05:10:32 PM EST
    I am so extremely sorry that she suffered a brain injury, and that she cannot remember her previous life.
    We have all heard of autistic savants, but this is the first post-brain-injury savant I know of.
    The brain is still a great mystery in so very many ways.
    I cannot help but speculate that there are depths in all of us that could be accessed, but our "normal" (well, more or less normal) brains block such abilities.  Unless we have some brain abnormalities, different wiring, or injury of a particular type, apparently.
    Jeralyn, BTW, I worked with a few aphasics in the past who could not speak, but we could teach them sign language.  Still a language, but not a spoken one.

    This (5.00 / 2) (#10)
    by CaptHowdy on Fri May 15, 2015 at 07:03:58 PM EST
    When I was a very young lawyer, I represented a 31 year old who suffered an aneurysm that left her aphasic and a quadriplegic. She only had partial use one arm.

    Is very close to the state a friend found herself in a few months ago.  I have mentioned her a couple of times.  She is now speaking and she has the use of both arms.   They say she will probably walk again.
    It's been a miraculous thing to watch.  She is in her late 30s.

    The brain is divide into two functions, (5.00 / 2) (#12)
    by NYShooter on Sat May 16, 2015 at 05:38:50 PM EST
    the conscious one, and the unconscious one. The conscious one, the one we are familiar with, and the one that we have control of, represents a mere 10% of the brain's capabilities and duties. The unconscious one, the remaining 90%, handles everything else, and is, by far, the more powerful one. It's the unconscious part that runs your body. You don't have to order your heart to pump every second, or so, or instruct the digestive tract to metabolize, and separate the nutrients you've eaten, and send each to their proper organ. Even when you're asleep, the unconscious brain, like the busiest air-traffic controller you could imagine, dutifully does its job.

    The conscious part of the brain handles your everyday physical desires, that is, when you want to pick up a pencil, you "will" your arm to reach out and grab it. And, often, you can train the unconscious brain to take over the duties you first trained your conscious brain to perform. For example, when you first learned to drive, every action of your arms, legs, eyes, etc. you, slowly, and cautiously, told them what to do. But, after a while, after you've had lots of practice, your unconscious mind takes over. That's why, today, you can do many things, talk, sing, (put on make-up) and still drive the car. Your driving functions now operate on virtual auto-pilot.

    That's why studying the 90% part of our brain is so fascinating. It does so much for us, and it never forgets anything. The study of psychiatry is the medical specialty that hopes to find the causes, and, hopefully, the cures for many of the mental illness that afflicts millions of people. And, through psychoanalysis, it tries to unlock that 90% part, the part that stores everything, and, forgets none of, so as to come up with treatments that, hopefully, would alleviate the suffering of so many people.

    50 years ago some of our best scientists and doctors thought they had found a pharmaceutical key, a drug that could be a "fast-track" method to enter, and understand, the workings of the unconscious mind. Those drugs fell under the banner of "hallucinogenic medicines." They held out great hope in researching such conditions as many types of psychosis, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, and even the many aspects of autism.

    Tragically, Dr. Timothy Leary took them out of the laboratory, and into the mainstream, followed in short order by the DEA. And thus, any hope of speeding up treatments for the severely mentally ill died under the auspices of America's Great Tragic Failure, the vaunted "War on Drugs."    

    Einstein's brain (none / 0) (#9)
    by chezmadame on Fri May 15, 2015 at 06:55:18 PM EST
    Einstein left his brain to science, and when it was examined, doctors discovered that it did not have the deep groove that divides the brain into two hemispheres. They surmised that this might explain his unusual genius.

    I'm always amazed when I see side by side pictures of the structure of a brain cell and the image of the known universe.


    Jeralyn (none / 0) (#11)
    by ding7777 on Sat May 16, 2015 at 03:57:07 PM EST
    We won the hearing and her ex-husband was ordered to bring her daughter to visit her every other Sunday afternoon

    Did the daughter (as she got older) thank-you?

    Oliver Sachs has some unusual... (none / 0) (#13)
    by desertswine on Sun May 17, 2015 at 05:18:35 PM EST
    Dr. Sachs is a fascinating man (none / 0) (#14)
    by sj on Sun May 17, 2015 at 09:19:39 PM EST
    His writing is so approachable. He has been a guest many times on my favorite podcast RadioLab -- that was where I learned that he himself suffers from face blindness. I was sad to hear earlier this year that he has terminal cancer.