April 1, 2011

In January, we wrote about the brain injury suffered by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. As you recall, she was one of the victims of a gunman’s shooting spree. She was shot in the head. For several weeks, people in Portland and everywhere else followed her progress.

Her surgeons used a procedure that had fallen out of favor: a craniectomy. More popular now, especially in war zones, the procedure involves removing a piece of skull to relieve pressure on the brain. Recently, word got out that her surgeons are preparing to reattach that piece of skull — a significant milestone in the congresswoman’s recovery.

After the piece of skull was removed, it was stored in a freezer at very, very low temperatures. The low temperatures ward off infection and keep the bone from deteriorating. When the brain has healed sufficiently, and doctors are confident the swelling won’t recur, the piece of bone is taken from cold storage and reattached to the patient’s skull.

The procedure is a cranioplasty, and it takes about two hours. Surgeons attach the piece of skull with microplates and screws. Over time, the bones knit together. The skull is whole again.

What surgeons say is most rewarding about the procedure is the reaction of the patients. Helmets can come off. Hands can touch heads. And patients, according to one neurosurgeon, respond with a big smile.

The exact date for the congresswoman’s surgery hasn’t been announced. Her doctors have only reported amazing progress, though, so the date may not be far off.

Sources:, “Doc calls Giffords’ planned surgery a milestone for patients,” Bob McClay, 03/14/11


Categories: Blog