January 10th, 2011
11:45 AM ET

Gupta: What helped Giffords survive brain shot

Editor's note: CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is a practicing trauma neurosurgeon and associate chief of neurosurgery at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

(CNN) - Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is in critical condition on a ventilator after being shot through the back of the left side of her head, yet doctors are “cautiously optimistic” about her survival. That she is alive at all is surprising to many people, but people survive these types of injuries more often than you may think.

While every patient and injury is different, on average – around 2/3 of patients with a gunshot wound (GSW) to the head don’t live long enough to make it to the hospital. Of the third that do make it, only 50% of those patients survive longer than 30 days. And of course, those numbers say nothing of long-term neurological function in the survivors.

So far, according to her doctors, Giffords is likely to be in the small minority of patients who will beat the odds. So, what placed those odds in her favor?

First off, she received very quick care, and was in the operating room within 38 minutes after arriving at the hospital. Her overall health and youth also provide some benefit. The injury was a “through and through” injury, meaning there was both an entry and exit wound. That’s significant because some of the energy of the bullet was dissipated into space, as opposed to all within her cranial cavity.

Neurosurgeons will want to know if the bullet passed across the midline of the brain. If it does, there is a much poorer likelihood of survival. In Giffords' case, it did not. Other positive factors: Her blood pressure didn't drop as a result of the bleeding, and the oxygen supply in her body was maintained, according to her doctors that I interviewed.

Finally, the fact Giffords was “following commands” even before she had an operation was a very positive sign.

Full story on the Chart blog

Filed under: 360° Radar • Sanjay Gupta
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Ray Obuch, Denver CO

    Possibly Dr. Gupta an compare Congress Woman Gifford's injuries to those sustained by Mr. Brady during President Regan's assination attempt. Both were shot in the head and we know how Mr. Brady recovered.

    January 10, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
  2. Annie Kate

    I hope Rep. Giffords recovers completely and suffers no last debilitating effects from the shooting. From what the doctors and what Sanjay says, the outcome seems pretty hopeful. I wonder now that an attempt to assassinate a representative has occurred if we will need to provide protection to them somewhat like the Secret Service does to the President. I hope it does not come to that and I also hope that the representatives will continue their meet and greet programs so they can stay in touch with what their constituents are thinking and wanting. Rep. Giffords seemed to be doing a good job of that and its terrible she got shot while doing a good job for her electorate.

    January 10, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
  3. Kim

    Every snow flake is a positive thought for recovery and there is a blanket of white for protection and many prayers.She'll recover 100% and be back to work to carry out her life's journey of good for the people's causes.For those that lost loved ones many prayers and may they find strength through sorrow to see them through their loss.Stay brave and let's support mental health and our US organizations that care for those that need support.

    January 10, 2011 at 2:25 pm |