Lamar Odom Has Made Minimal Brain Progress

From the beginning the concern was twofold. There was the body. And there was the brain. The issues were separate. Once it was clear that Lamar Odom was going to survive his ischemic stroke produced by a drug overdose, intervention changed course. Get his kidneys back to normal. Get Odom to breathe on his own. Then deal with the traumatic brain injury issue.

The brain is a vast set of regions and hemispheres and neural pathways working in symmetry with one another.  Interruption of one part of the brain has an effect elsewhere. The question lingered: would Odom ever be independent enough to walk out the hospital on his own while speaking to his caregivers? Would his brain heal from the detrimental loss of oxygen? How many brain cells died during his medical catastrophe? Enough so he’ll never be what we think of as normal again?

The first part of the story was solved when Odom was transferred from ICU to the physical therapy floor. No longer in need of life saving measures, his prognosis was no longer death. Everyone rejoiced at his progress and perhaps the celebration was premature. This was not the Lamar Odom they were used to.  Nevertheless, his treatment entered a new phase.

According to TMZ, that phase has had very slow progress and Odom’s physicians fear his brain damage is extensive. But even so, does that mean it’s permanent?

Odom has not been able to speak, save a word here and there, common with stroke victims as the part of the brain that controls language suffered extensive damage from the lack of oxygen. Therapy can help. Every patient’s treatment program is different depending on the extent of their brain injury and oxygen loss. Some stroke victims regain language over time with the assistance of speech-language pathologists. Others retain part of their language and can communicate with short words and sentences, repeating the same words over and over again. In the worse case scenario, language is never recovered, the brain damage is too extensive. Just a month in, it is too soon to know which camp Odom is in. But the concern is real.

Odom still cannot walk. Muscle weakness, loss of balance, numbness, all contribute to a stroke patient’s inability to stand up. Walking is particularly complicated even as we take it for granted. A lot of isolated movements in which muscles work together make up each step. The re-learning process is comprehensive. The brain has to remember to send signals to the muscles. Or the muscles through manipulation have to make the brain remember. This takes a while.

According to TMZ, doctors are worried because Odom doesn’t recognize friends or family who visit him in the hospital. That is altogether different than not remembering. Does Odom struggle with perception too?

Odom has been in the hospital for 32 days and the good and bad of it is he has survived the worst of the worst, what had his life in danger. Now that a huge crises has passed, what kind of independent life can Odom expect to have? That is the most important question without a straight forward answer.

Odom’s treatment has always been based on many months of therapy. In effect, his body is starting from zero. His muscles have to be retrained. His cognitive skills have to be re-taught. The basic functions of life everyone takes for granted like washing your face and brushing your teeth have to be repeated over and over again. You don’t overdose, have 12 strokes, nearly die from oxygen loss and then expect life to go on as usual. Your emotions are going to be erratic, as the TMZ report suggests. This is not a movie.

This is Odom’s life. How independent will he be?

photo via llananba