Man Visits Hospital For Leg Pain, Learns He Is Missing Half His Brain

Indrani Sengupta
Nobody had noticed. Not the patient himself, nor his family, nor his doctors. He had lived his life without anyone knowing he was missing most of his brain.

In 2007, an otherwise healthy French man visited the hospital complaining of minor leg weakness. The 44-year-old father of two likely figured the issue was small, and could be fixed with some medicine or therapy. He could never have guessed what doctors would find.

 A medical exam revealed that the man was missing most of his brain, between 50 and 75 percent.  A 2007 study stated that:

“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.” 

Researchers concluded that the loss of brain matter was most likely the result of postnatal hydrocephalus (the buildup of fluid in the skull), which the patient was diagnosed with at six months of age. Doctors had installed shunts in his brain to help drain the excess fluid. But once the man turned 14 and the shunts were removed, the issue returned. Over the next three decades, the fluid buildup consumed his brain matter until only a “shell” remained.

Doctors were able to treat the man’s leg problems by reinserting a shunt into his brain, but they remained baffled as to how he not only survived, but also demonstrated no signs of impairment beyond a slightly below average IQ.

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Human Brain

But a new study may have found a viable answer to this mystery.

In a recent paper published in Biological Theory, Dr. Donald Forsdyke states that this patient’s case is proof that there is little correlation between brain size and function. As pediatric brain defect specialist Dr. Max Muenke states:

“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.”

It seems the human brain is even more remarkable than we thought. 

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Banner image credit: flickr/Vic