On June 7, Yasser Lopez (16) was swimming with a group of friends when one of them attempted to load a spear into a spear gun. The gun accidentally deployed, sending a 3-foot long spear hurtling towards Lopez's head.
The stainless steel projectile entered the teen's head one inch above his right eye and passed completely through his skull and brain. "You could feel the tip under the skin on the posterior part of the skull," said Dr. George Garcia, the trauma surgeon from Ryder Trauma Center who treated Lopez on his arrival at the hospital.
Remarkably Garcia added yesterday from Jackson Memorial Hospital
in Miami, FL, not only did Lopez miraculously survive the accident, "When he came off the helicopter at the hospital, he was awake and talking to paramedics."
The doctor added that the boy's "striking injury" is not something one sees everyday, particularly as the teen was alert and talking. But a few minutes after his arrival in the trauma bay, Lopez became agitated Garcia said. To avoid destabilizing the spear, doctors sedated and intubated the teen, then chemically paralyzed him so the spear wouldn't move.
After realizing that the spear was too long and would prevent Lopez from receiving a CT scan, doctors consulted with emergency rescue personnel and the spear was cut down using a rebar cutter.
Dr. Ross Bullock a trauma neurosurgeon who operated on the teen to remove the spear, said that first it was important to "Ensure none of the brain vessels had been injured." Doctors used an angio test, an X-ray test that uses a special dye and camera (fluoroscopy) to take pictures of the blood flow in an artery.
Also after interviewing the family, the surgical team determined that one end of the spear had an unscrewable tip, Bullock said. This allowed them to remove the spear without further damage during a 3-hour long operation.
Remarkably said Bullock, although the spear had passed completely through the brain, it had "Passed through the non-dominant side of the brain [...] the right side instead of the left side of the brain." Furthermore the surgeon revealed, the projectile "Miraculously missed all of the main blood vessels" plus "the vital deep-seated structures in the brain," like the thalamus (involved in sensory perception and regulation of motor functions), the brain stem, and the basal ganglia.
The spear said Bullock, "Had threaded its way" through an area of the brain called "the white matter tracks, that connects the cortex to the subcortical structures." These tracts are areas used to transmit signals from one region of the brain to another.
Damage in the these areas can cause cognitive impairment, and currently Lopez's left arm and leg are weak Bullock explained, "And he can't use his left side properly." The doctor is hoping that the white matter tracts will recover and repair over time.
As for his memory, Lopez does not recall the incident but Bullock expects the range of the memory loss to cover just a short period, Possibly "10-15 minutes before the injury," he said, to "10, 12, 15 days after."
Overall, Bullock described Lopez's prognosis as "Very optimistic," considering it's only eleven days since he was injured. Lopez, he said, is able to talk a few, short sentences, is "sitting out of bed" and has left the Intensive Care Unit. The teen will now undergo several months of extensive rehab.