When a man went to the hospital complaining of minor leg pain, neither he nor the doctors were expecting to find that half of his brain was missing!
The perfectly healthy 44-year-old father-of-two, whose identity was not revealed for privacy reasons, baffled doctors in France when a medical exam revealed the bizarre brain malfunction in 2007.
At the time, researchers could explain how he’d lost part of his brain but were stumped as to how the man had continued to live a perfectly healthy life without it.
However, a recent study may shed light on the man’s survival, proposing that brain size and brain function are largely unrelated.
A 2007 study on the strange case was originally published in the scientific journal ‘The Lancet’, revealing that the patient was missing a significant amount of brain matter, estimated at between 50 and 75 per cent!
Speaking to New Scientist, Lionel Feuillet, a co-author of the study, said:
The whole brain was reduced — frontal, parietal, temporal and occipital lobes — on both left and right sides. These regions control motion, sensibility, language, vision, audition, and emotional, and cognitive functions.
Despite the handicap, the married middle-aged man held a full-time job as a civil servant and showed no other signs of his missing body part other than a slightly below average IQ.
The cause of his affliction appeared to be “postnatal hydrocephalus”, which the man was diagnosed with at age 6, and literally means “water on the head”. The condition occurs when fluid builds up in the skull and causes the brain to swell.
After his diagnosis, the patient received shunts in his brain to help drain the excess fluid. However, as they were removed at age 14, fluid continued to build up in his brain. Over 30 years, it slowly condensed and consumed the actual brain matter.
As for how he survived for so long, experts point to the concept of “brain plasticity”. You see, although different parts of the brain are used for separate tasks, scientists now believe the brain is able to reorganise its neural pathways to allow areas of the brain to undertake other tasks than those intended. Which is pretty neat, if you ask us!
Dr. Max Muenke, a pediatric brain defect specialist at the National Human Genome Research Institute, added:
If something happens very slowly over quite some time, maybe over decades, the different parts of the brain take up functions that would normally be done by the part that is pushed to the side.
So, there you go, even those of us with half a brain have a shot in life. Good to know!