Thursday, December 14, 2006
Senator's speech signals bleeding brain
Yesterday, Sen. Tim Johnson, a South Dakota Democrat, was in a meeting when he suddenly started having difficulty speaking. At first, he couldn't find the right word, then he started stammering and finally stopped speaking altogether. After he walked back to his office, it seemed that his right arm or leg had become numb. His staffers didn't know what was wrong at first, but then sent him to the hospital. It was the right thing to do. Johnson was having symptoms that sounded like a stroke.
As we now know, the senator actually had a congenital arterial venous malformation in his brain, known as an AVM. This is a cluster of arteries and veins in the brain that grow together. Sometimes, for unclear reasons, this tangle of blood vessels will bleed - and that blood puts pressure on the brain. The pressure causes the stroke-like symptoms. He underwent an operation to remove the blood and stabilize the tangle. The doctors say it was successful, and the senator is now recovering. Judging from the location of his bleeding, his recovery will most likely take quite a while. It was on the left side of his brain, in an area responsible for the ability to speak and understand. Most surprising to many is that this AVM was probably with the senator his entire life and never before caused any problems. The senator probably never even knew he had a problem until he could no longer speak.
Most people reading this and watching the news coverage are immediately wondering whether this could happen to them. The answer is: It's very unlikely. You have about a 1/1000 chance of having such a problem. Still, many people may want to get screened to tell them for sure. They never want to be in the position in which the senator now finds himself. The problem is that the screening can get very expensive. The best test to look for this sort of problem can cost $2,000. If everyone in the nation were screened, the cost could be in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Is it worth it? Let's hear your thoughts.
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