Saturday, June 28, 2008

ABC Nightline presents scientist with recovery from stroke and "Be Here Now" experience

Late last night (June 27), ABC Nightline presented the story of Jill Bolte Taylor, a neurology biologist, who experienced a stroke in December 1996 as a strange kind of epiphany. The interview was conducted by Terry Moran. She held and showed a preserved cadaver brain during the interview. The brain weighs about three pounds and has several hundred billion neurons.

Most of the left side of her brain died. For about four hours, she experienced life “in the present” the way a mystic does, she says. It was some time before she realized what had happened.

The left side of the brain is involved in speech, mathematics, abstract reasoning, and long term historical memory and context. The right side is more about the idea of “Be Here Now”, in reference to a book from the Lama Foundation. Currency of consciousness is the aim of transcendental meditation and spiritual practice (as with Eastern religions), she said.

Her new book, from Viking in May 2008, is called “My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey.”

She underwent eight hours of brain surgery and it took eight years to regain her memory and full conventional intellectual function. She sounded perfectly lucid in the television interview. The stroke occurred at age 37, so she is now 49 and has been fully recovered for four years.

The ABC News story is by Katie Escherich, and is called “Stroke of Insight: A Window Inside the Brain: Scientist Jill Bolte Taylor given an ‘incredible education’ when she suffered a stroke.” The link is here.

On two occasions, once in 1994 and again in 2005, spouses of co-workers have had sudden aneurysms, which may lead to similar symptons. An aneurysm event is a bursting and hemorrhage from a swelling in an artery, doing damage by pressure and blood loss. A conventional stroke is usually caused by a blot clot in the brain, a kind of “brain attack” analogous to a coronary thrombosis. Severe short term memory loss may follow either kind of event, and sometimes patients need to spend some time in assisted living to recover.

The NIH page on strokes is here.

Picture: Bhutan exhibit and live music from Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Washington DC, June 2008

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