BRAIN TRAUMA: Treatment, recovery results improve drastically - KMSP-TV

BRAIN TRAUMA: Treatment, recovery results improve drastically

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Over the past few years, greater understanding of traumatic brain injuries has led to dramatic progress in recovery and treatment even though the circumstances that led to those discoveries is less than ideal.

Last month, the care team helping Isaac Kolstad recover from the traumatic brain injury he suffered in an assault on the streets of Mankato, Minn., removed a piece of his skull to relieve the pressure. Soon, that skull flap will be replaced, and that will mark a major step forward as he moves toward rehab.

The medical professionals who have overseen multiple surgeries during his hospital stay told the Kolstad family that doctors know much more about treating brain injuries than they did a decade ago, and much of that new knowledge can be attributed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It is significantly different than 10 years ago," Dr. Andrew Grande, a neurosurgeon and professor at the University of Minnesota, told Fox 9 News.

Grande is not involved in Kolstad's care, but he confirmed the science of treating brain injuries keeps picking up speed.

"These paradigm shifts occurring in neuroscience are occurring so much more rapidly right now," he said.

The battlefield is a big driver of that advancement. Historically, it always has been.

"Neurosurgery's really only about 100 years old," Grande explained. "It was the world wars that led to rapid advances."

With so many soldiers suffering traumatic brain injuries, more federal research money has become available to learn how to treat them. Although not much is different surgically, the discoveries have led to better, fuller recoveries with fewer complications thanks to better monitoring.

"We're measuring brain oxygen now," Grande said. "In the past, we just measured intracranial pressure."

One of the most critical components to success is specialized units, according to Grande.

"Only in the last 10 years, for the most part, neuro intensive care units have begun to develop," Grande said. "These are isolated intensive care units where all the patients there have neurologic problems."

The speed of the technology is also accelerating, and neurosurgeons can now use 3D televisions in training.

"It can be challenging to understand the 3D relationships," Grande acknowledged.

Yet, the next 10 years could be where the true amazement awaits.

"Maybe down the road, is there maybe that possibility that we can regenerate neurons?" Grande asked.

The survival rate for traumatic brain injury hasn't changed much, but the extent of the recovery -- and the possibilities afterward -- are remarkably different.

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