Tag Archives: brain injury

The downside of using big data in medical research

A scientific scuffle played out in the pages of the Lancet recently. At issue was whether a team of scientists led by Dr. Damien Cruse at the University of Western Ontario had successfully used EEG, a test that measures the electrical activity of the brain, to detect awareness in brain-damaged patients who were in a vegetative state, a finding they first reported in 2011.

Other scientists who were working on the problem of awareness had been gobsmacked by the results.

Patients in vegetative states eventually open their eyes. They wake and sleep. But otherwise they have little awareness of what’s going on around them. Some of their reflexes may still be intact but, according to diagnostic criteria, they don’t respond to commands or understand language.

To show that 3 out of 16 of these patients were able to follow verbal instructions to imagine opening and closing a fist or wiggling their toes at the sound of a series of beeps was “pretty impressive,” says Andrew Goldfine, M.D., a neurologist at Weill Cornell Medical College and Burke Medical Research Institute in New York. Continue reading

Neurosurgeon reflects on time in the media spotlight

By Anna Nguyen
Independent Journalist

For G. Michael Lemole Jr., M.D., it’s simply his job to save the lives of patients who have suffered from life-threatening traumatic injuries.


Lemole spoke to health journalists at AHCJ’s annual conference.

Lemole, chief of neurosurgery at the University of Arizona Department of Surgery and University Medical Center, found himself in the national spotlight after he performed brain surgery on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she sustained a gunshot wound to the head in Tucson on Jan. 8.

As the keynote speaker at Health Journalism 2011, he retraced the treatment of the congresswoman earlier this year and his experience working with the media.

“Everyone made a big deal of what we did, but it’s what we do everyday … This is academic medicine at its best,” Lemole said. His hospital is designated by the American College of Surgeons as being equipped to provide the highest level of surgical care to trauma patients. “The real focus of the entire event is the congresswoman.”

Lemole and surgical team performed three surgeries on Giffords. On Jan. 8, Lemole and Martin E. Weinand, M.D., removed part of Giffords’ skull to allow her brain to swell, as well as removing dead brain tissue and skull fragments caused by the bullet. On Jan. 15, Lemole repaired her orbital roof fracture through a skull base approach.

“If there is any silver lining in this, it’s that the bullet didn’t take a more traumatic trajectory,” he said.

The last surgery that Giffords received was a ventriculostomy, which measured intracranial pressure and drained fluid in the brain. He supervised the congresswoman’s care until she was released to a Houston rehabilitation hospital on Jan. 21.

During this time, Lemole and others committed to making themselves available to the media. “We strategized with ourselves, administrators, and with the family. The family asked us to get the correct information out,” he said.

Many doctors are reluctant to speak to the media because they are trained to judge and be judged by objective criteria. With media interactions, doctors are not in control as they are in our operating rooms and intensive care units, Lemole said. During the coverage, he found blog postings involving his parents and comparing his looks to Dan Aykroyd.

Overall, Lemole considered the experience “as positive as it could have been in this terrible event.”

“It’s important to get the story right and give some positive feedback to the media. It was a healthy interaction and respectful of both parties,” Lemole said after the speech.

Conference attendees found the opportunity to hear from Lemole helpful in thinking about their own reporting.

“It’s always good to hear from the other side. We’re always asking the questions and don’t usually get a chance to hear how they viewed us,” said Stephanie Nano, assistant health and science editor for The Associated Press in New York.

Daniel J. DeNoon, a senior medical writer for WebMD, said that this is an ongoing story that journalists will be writing more about. “I really appreciated that he went into details of the operation. It’s extremely timely and informational.”

Anna Nguyen is an independent journalist based in Philadelphia.

GAO evaluates youth concussion databases

In a recent report, the Goverment Accountability Office reviewed national efforts to track concussions in youth sports (highlights). The report evaluates local and national laws designed to keep young athletes safe, but the most immediately useful component may be the identification and evaluation of three incomplete national databases now being maintained.

High School Reporting Information Online database

Provides national estimates of occurrence of concussion, it covers only 20 sports for high schools with certified athletic trainers. It may underestimate occurrence because some athletes may be reluctant to report symptoms of a possible concussion to avoid being removed from a game.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System

Provides national estimates only on concussions treated in an emergency room.

The National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research database

Provides information only on cases of concussion with serious complications and cannot provide national estimates of the occurrence of all concussions.


House holds hearing on brain injuries in NFL

The House of Representatives is holding a hearing on “Legal Issues Relating to Football Head Injuries” that is being webcast on C-SPAN.org.

The witness list includes NFL commissioner Roger S. Goodell as well as the director of the players association, team executives, doctors, neurologists, retired players, families of former players and safety advocates.


The New York Times: NFL Data Reinforces Dementia Links

‘Playing through’ concussions is damaging

HDNet’s Dan Rather reported on second-impact syndrome (see transcript here), the “concussion on top of a concussion” he said killed five football players last year. Some athletes may take a few days to heal from a concussion, others may take a few months. If an athlete returns to the field before his or her concussion is healed, Rather reported, the potential for further brain damage is greatly increased.

The report features Zackery Lystedt, a teen who suffered brain injuries in a football game in 2006. Tom Wyrwich of The Seattle Times also reported on Lystedt in his article about second-impact syndrome in November.

Rather reports that a just-released study by Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio found that 41 percent of high school athletes return to play too soon.