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Miracle Life: Cases Of People Who Live Without A Brain

Miracle Life: Cases Of People Who Live Without A Brain

Does size matter when it comes to our brain? One of the biggest myths regarding the brain is that larger brain is always better. But, have you ever given a thought about those who are at the end of the scale? While considering the archives of medical history, there are many people with tiny brains and in fact, some who lack the huge chunks entirely, which defy all odds.

Within each of us lies the vast realms of riddles which medical science is yet to understand. Some people enter this world without any significant brain, and yet they manage to survive and live for years with full consciousness. Some of them function as an ordinary member of the society.

It is certainly mind-boggling to know that people exist without a brain and it indicates how little we know about  human body. Here are some miraculous cases of individuals who are living without a brain!

Aaron Murray, Lanarkshire, Scotland

Aaron Murray, of Lanarkshire, Scotland was born in 2013 with a severe case of a medical condition called as hydranencephaly. In this state, the brain is not formed or is partially developed. Most babies with this condition die before birth or soon after their birth. Doctors indicated the same prognosis for Aaron as well.

A typical brain scan shows brain filling all through the head cavity right to the top. The brain is viewed as a white area with black pockets of fluid running outside the brain and through the brain for transmission of vitamins and to clean the toxins. In Aaron’s case, the scan revealed only the brain stem. It was coming up and stopping under the cavity which was filled with fluid.

Miracle Life: Cases Of People Who Live Without A BrainLeft: Aaron Murray with his mother. Right: Brain scan of Aaron Murray showing the brain stem. The rest of the skull is filled with fluid.

Aaron, who was born with a small brain stem, survived weeks, months and years with a relatively good health. Aaron had to undergo eight weeks of observation and surgeries to reduce the fluid build-up. He was allowed to return home with his family with the belief that he would soon die. However, the prognosis was defied once again. Aaron who was not only surviving showed an awareness of his surroundings and people, displayed cognitive abilities like smiling, playing or giggling, watched his favorite television shows and uttered the word “mummy” when he was barely two years of age.

According to Jill Yaz, a doctor from the Association for Spina Bifidia and Hydrocephalus, a brain stem controls the basic functions that are necessary for survival. It helps in keeping the heart going, aids in working of our body organs and controls our breathing. In fact, it also assists in basic functions like swallowing. As long as our brain stem functions, we can survive. However, it does not help in controlling our thoughts or consciousness. Dr Yaz states that the remarkable aspect of Aaron’s case is his ability to giggle, utter the word mummy and smile. There is no explanation for this, and our human body can indeed surprise us by doing such remarkable things. Although, Aaron Murray cannot walk or stand on his own, he is a perfect example of a medical miracle.

Jaxon Buell, of Tavares, Florida

The case of Jaxon Buell, of Tavares, Florida is similar to that of Aaron Murray. However, Jaxon was born with a defect called as anencephaly, in which significant portions of the brain and skull are absent. Jaxon has only a brain stem and misses a cerebellum and majority of his skull.

The condition came to light in early stages of pregnancy, but Buells decided to go ahead with the baby even when the doctors insisted that it will not come to full term. When Jaxon was born on August 17, 2014, he did not have a brain and a significant portion of his skull. Doctors expected Jaxon to die immediately after birth.

Miracle Life: Cases Of People Who Live Without A BrainJaxon Emmett Buell, who has an extremely rare brain malformation called microhydranencephaly, was born on Aug. 17, 2014. Photo © Courtesy Buell family

However, Jaxon survived for years. Just like Aaron, Jaxon also showed a clear awareness of his surroundings and spoke words like daddy and mama.  Although Jaxon has occasional health issues, he continues to defy the odds.

Besides Aaron and Jaxon, there are many other baffling cases like that of Kaliysha Barrett who was born with a partially operational brain stem and no cerebral cortex but has lived to be six years of age, Alex Simpson of Omaha, Nebraska who has lived to over ten years old without a brain. Alex showed incredible awareness and could recognize her surroundings well.

Trevor Judge Waltrip, of Shreveport, Louisiana, was born in 2001 without a brain but managed to live to 12 years old before he died peacefully in his sleep. Trevor was blind and could not speak, but he was quite alert and showed emotional responses by bonding with his family members.

Miracle Life: Cases Of People Who Live Without A BrainOne of the most amazing examples of human survival, Trevor Judge Waltrip, a boy born without a brain, died after living for 12 years

Adults With “No Brain.”

The condition of not having a brain is not restricted to newborns or children. There are many adults without brains who were doomed to die at an early age but have lived into adulthood successfully.

One of the most remarkable and famous cases is that of a 44-year-old French civil servant. The article appeared in a 2007 Lancet study which stated that the person went to the hospital complaining of weakness in his leg. However, what surprised everyone and the person himself, was that he had only a little amount of brain material in his skull, the rest was filled with fluid.

The man led a normal life, had a regular job and a loving family. He always had a low IQ of 75 but was never considered mentally handicapped. The man was unaware of the condition all through his life. It is unusual for people with little amount of brain matter to barely remain conscious. The fact of being a functioning member of the society is impossible to even imagine.

Axel Cleeremans, a cognitive psychologist from the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, stated that “Any theory of consciousness has to be able to explain why a person like that, who are missing 90 percent of his neurons, still exhibits normal behavior.”

In yet another astounding case in China, a 24-year-old woman checked into a hospital in Shandong Province after experiencing some dizziness and nausea. On investigating, the doctors realized that the woman had problem in walking and she had started speaking only when she was six-years of age. The doctors conducted a head scan of the woman. Least did they know that the reports will leave them stunned!

Miracle Life: Cases Of People Who Live Without A BrainComparison with a normal brain Top image: A hole at the back where the cerebellum should be /Feng Yu et al.; Bottom image: ©Zephyr/Science Photo Library

The scan revealed that she had no cerebellum and the space was full of fluid. The woman was suffering from a condition called as cerebellar agenesis. The cerebellum holds around 50 percent of our brain’s neurons and is responsible for our body balance, motor learning, voluntary movements and different cognitive functions. The woman was functioning pretty normally without this essential part of our brain. The only ill-effects that she had was slightly slurred speech and minor issues with her motor function.

Doctors, who were stunned with the reports of the woman believed that the other parts of her brain had taken over the roles that would have been handled by her cerebellum. Doctor Max Muenke, from the National Human Genome Research Institute, says, “What I find amazing to this day is how the brain can deal with something which you think should not be compatible with life. Such cases as we have looked at here open up the door to a whole new world of weirdness involving the human brain, how it works, and where our consciousness resides. The traditional view is that we simply need a brain to live, that this is what makes us who we are and holds our “self,” yet what of these cases where people are missing large portions of or even all of their brains, yet show cognition, personality, and understanding? Is it possible that our consciousness is not confined to any one region of the brain, and that it is a flexible force that is malleable and adaptable?”

The Bizarre Tale Of Phineas Gage

This accident took place on September 13, 1948. Phineas Gage, a railroad foreman, was the victim of this massive accident, which happened due to an explosion, a filling iron rod went straight through his head. However, he was fortunate enough to not have been killed by an attack like that.

Miracle Life: Cases Of People Who Live Without A BrainSimulated Connectivity Damage of Phineas Gage

This accident, however, led him to several facial surgeries, he also lost an eye, his frontal lobe got damaged, and his mental and emotional stability was also at question. As a result he lost his job and went to work at a stable in New Hampshire, drove coaches in Chile and eventually joined relatives in San Francisco, where he died in May 1860, at age 36, after a series of seizures.

Consciousness and Brain

In recent years, many people have challenged our beliefs on consciousness and its relation to our brain. A hypothesis called as radical plasticity thesis states that we are not born with consciousness, rather our brain learns the state of consciousness repeatedly. In other words, the process of consciousness is performed by various brain regions depending on the situations that we face in our lives.

According to this hypothesis, our consciousness is flexible and is not confined to one part of our brain. It occurs due to our brain’s constant description and review of its activities and memories which eventually form our awareness. Hence, a person with a fraction of neurons can create a theory of themselves and retain their consciousness.

Dr Axel Cleeremans, who proposed this idea in 2011 says, “Consciousness is the brain’s non-conceptual theory about itself, gained through experience – that is learning, interacting with itself, the world, and with other people.”

There are many mysteries that our brains hold, and we have little understanding of what consciousness is and how it is generated. The cases that we viewed in this article are stunning and leaves behind several questions. The day is not too far when we will finally solve these queries, however, for the time being, we have to regard them as tantalizing glimpses into the mystical world of medical mystery.


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