just how safe is a popular type of brain surgery

As outlined in previous discussions, there is perhaps nothing more devastating than a traumatic brain injury. Whether the result of a sudden accident, medical mistake, or other negligent or reckless conduct, a TBI can have deadly or lasting repercussions, including impaired cognitive and motor function, memory problems and mood disorders, to name only a few.

Over the years, however, medical professionals have devised new methods to help save the lives of TBI patients and mitigate neurological trauma.

One such method is a procedure called depressive craniectomy, in which a team of neurosurgeons relieves potentially deadly swelling in the brain by removing a portion of a patient’s skull and reattaching it after the swelling has abated. Interestingly, the portion of the skull removed during the depressive craniectomy — or hemicraniectomy — can actually be frozen for months at a time before being reattached or replaced with a prosthesis.

Some of the more notable figures who have undergone successful depressive craniectomies include former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Senator Mark Kirby and Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager-turned-advocate who was shot by the Taliban on her way to school.

While many medical professionals have hailed depressive craniectomies as a marvel of modern science, a growing section of the medical community is questioning just how safe they actually are.

Specifically, these professionals point to studies demonstrating that while the surgery can be linked to many remarkable recoveries, it can also be linked to a significant number of patient deaths and neurological disabilities resulting in a reduced quality of life.

“All of us have seen miracles in people we’ve done this on, but the truth is we’re also probably creating a larger population of patients who are significantly disabled,” said one physician with the neurosurgery department at the University of Michigan.

While these concerned medical professionals aren’t necessarily calling for the complete abandonment of depressive craniectomies, they are indicating that more research needs to be performed in order to determine what types of patients are best suited for the surgery, meaning those with the lowest risk of developing profound disabilities.

Here’s hoping such research is undertaken sooner than later.

Please visit our website to learn more about your options if you or a family member has suffered a traumatic brain injury because of what you believe was medical malpractice.

Source: The New York Times, “Skull surgery offers perils and potential,” Katie Hafner, July 16, 2013

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