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Charleston physician has different theory about Giffords' recovery

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On Jan. 8, 2011, Jared Loughner fired a gun into the head of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. The bullet went through the front left side of her brain, and out the other side of her head.

Two years and three surgeries later, the now-retired Giffords can walk and talk. One Charleston neurologist believes that's not because of the operations doctors performed on her.

Instead, Dr. Iraj Derakhshan believes that Giffords' recovery is because she's left-handed, not right-handed as she thinks.

"This lady underwent three unnecessary surgeries," said Derakhshan, who plans to present his theory at a conference of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons later this month.

Derakhshan, a former associate professor at the University of Cincinnati and Case Western Reserve University, has never seen or treated Giffords. He formed his theory based on media reports and public documents about the case.

He will be one of about 600 physicians from all over the world to present his theory via an electronic poster at the annual American Association of Neurological Surgeons conference. His peer-reviewed presentation will be available to attendees via an app. The conference is taking place in New Orleans beginning April 28.

Derakhshan said a person's consciousness is found in only the dominant side of the brain. In a left-handed person, he said, consciousness is found in the right side of the brain.

"The left hemisphere in [a left-hander] is just a slave microprocessor in the language of computer today," he said. It controls breathing, too, Derakhshan said. He believes Giffords would have died if she were shot in the actual dominant side of her brain.

His theory differs from a common understanding of the brain, which is that the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body and vice versa.

Many times physicians will operate on patients who have a brain bleed or lesion on their non-dominant hemisphere because they fear the increased pressure on the brain will kill the person.

But Derakhshan said when patients have pressure on the non-dominant side of their brains, doctors would be better off giving the person good nursing care and physical therapy and letting the brain heal on its own, rather than operating on the brain. Surgeons often remove good parts of brain along with bad parts and further damage the brain, he said.

Giffords thinks she's right-handed, but that doesn't necessarily mean she is, Derakhshan said.

People choose a favorite hand by age 3 or 4 and it may not actually always be the dominant hand, he said. A person may choose the left because their father or mother is left-handed or vice versa.

"Ten to 15 percent of people in society claim a handedness that is not their own," he said.

Brain tumors should not be removed from the non-dominant side of the brain because of pressure, but only if the tumor is interfering with the normal function of the brain, he said.

His theory has implications beyond brain bleeds and tumors.

According to Derakhshan, all movement starts in the brain's major hemisphere. That includes seizures, which account for many of the operations that neurosurgeons do, he said.

"If you go and look at the statistics, half of [seizure surgeries] are done on the left side and half of it is done on the right side," he said. "It should be 80/20 percent. So they are going after the wrong hemisphere,"

Derakhshan said his thoughts about handedness have encountered some resistance. But he is also being recognized for them.

The abstract of one of his papers was published in the November 2012 issue of the Annals of Neurology.

Coincidentally, Giffords could also be at the AANS conference this month, as she's being honored with an award.

"[With] any new thing you are going to meet resistance," Derakhshan said. "... If I am a good spokesperson for nature ... if I'm telling the truth as far as nature is concerned, I'm going to win." Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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