How did Gabrielle Giffords survive gunshot wound to head?

Rep Gabrielle Giffords

Rep Gabrielle Giffords

Initial reports on the shooting of American politician, Gabrielle Giffords, at the weekend, implied that she had been shot dead. The fact that she had received a gunshot wound through the back of her head made it seem sadly likely that this was the case. However, Giffords, although in a critical condition has survived the shooting, and her doctors are “cautiously optimistic” about her survival.

While around two-thirds of patients with a gunshot wound to the head don’t live, one-third do (although only 50% of those patients survive longer than 30 days).  Of course long-term neurological function in the survivors is another story.

In Giffords’ case, the bullet shot through the back of the left side of her head. If it had passed through the midline, the likelihood of survival would have been less likely.

According to CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the injury was a “through and through” injury, meaning there was both an entry and exit wound – meaning  some of the energy of the bullet was dissipated into space, as opposed to all within her cranial cavity.

Dr Gupta also reports that neurosurgeon, Dr. Michael Lemole, performed a craniectomy (surgical removal of a portion of the cranium) to prevent the brain swelling.  By removing portions of the skull, the brain has extra room to swell. Incidentally, the bone that’s removed is saved, and put back in the head during a future operation.

While Giffords is clearly not out of danger yet, let us hope that the signs are good for her recovery.


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