Construction Worker Impaled Through the Brain Is a Modern-Day Phineas Gage

Illustration for article titled Construction Worker Impaled Through the Brain Is a Modern-Day Phineas Gage

If you've taken so much as one psychology course, you've probably heard of Phineas Gage, the man who survived having a railroad spike driven through his skull. It sounds like a one-of-a-kind thing, but a Brazilian construction worker just survived a similar injury.


Eduardo Leite, the 24-year-old construction worker with a hell of a lot of luck, was hit by an iron bar that fell from the fifth floor of construction site and pierced both his hard hat and the back of his skull, popping out right between his eyes. Even after getting the new hole in his head, Leite remained conscious and lucid, eventually telling doctors what had happened to him.


The bar was carefully removed with a grueling 5-hour surgery. Luiz Alexandre Essinger, chief of staff at the hospital where Leite was treated, told the AP:

"He was taken to the operating room, his skull was opened, they examined the brain and the surgeon decided to pull the metal bar out from the front in the same direction it entered the brain. ...Today, he continues well, with few complaints for a five-hour-long surgery. He says he feels little pain."

The damaged part of Leite's brain clearly isn't required to stay alive, but its specific function isn't known. Leite is likely to remain at the hospital for up to two weeks following the surgery, and exactly what's happened to his brain probably won't be clear until he starts getting back to "normal" life. Whatever the damage may be, he's damn lucky to be alive. [The Guardian]

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To me, as a doctor, the most amazing thing about Gage's injury was the after-injury problems/care he received. This included probing his brain/cranium with metal rods, a fungal and/or bacterial encephalitis with early foul-smelling discharge from the wound, and the doctors' reliance on the heavy use of silver nitrate applications to the not-yet-healed injury. Today, with antibiotics, etc., and just better supportive care (not to mention imaging advances such as the three-dimensionally reconstructed CT as in the pic above), an injury like Gage's is immensely more survivable (yet still impressive in its own right!).