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Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, holds his wife's hand as she recovers from a gunshot wound to the head. Doctors expect Giffords to survive, but remain uncertain of the pace of her recovery. Image courtesy Creative Commons.

U of M neurosurgeon available to comment on brain trauma as a result of gunshot wounds

January 13, 2011

On Saturday, Jan. 8, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona suffered a gunshot wound to the head when a gunman opened fire outside a grocery store, killing six people and wounding 13 others.

What happens to the human brain – both structurally and physiologically – when it sustains a penetrating trauma like a gunshot wound? How is such trauma treated, and how do neurosurgeons battle the swelling and skull pressure that results from such an injury? What are the long term recovery prospects for patients suffering such traumatic brain injuries?

A University of Minnesota expert who says initial treatment is paramount in treating brain trauma is:

Matthew Hunt, M.D., a University of Minnesota Physicians neurosurgeon  

“There’s the concept of the ‘Golden Hour’ in trauma surgery,” Hunt says. “The faster you can get a trauma patient to definitive care, hopefully the better odds they’ll have of making it through their injury. But one of the difficulties of treating a penetrating injury like a gunshot wound is that so many variables come into play. The trajectory of the bullet, the caliber of the weapon and things like that all make a gunshot wound to the head a very complex injury to treat.”

According to Hunt, when a bullet enters the brain, there are direct injuries along the track the bullet takes, but that there are also shockwaves and dispersion injuries that result. At times, a bullet can even bounce off either the brain or skull and cause additional injuries. Treating these injuries is one step, but a second, critical step is in treating the swelling and pressure that can rise within the skull.

To listen to Hunt describe what happens when someone suffers a gunshot to the head, click here or listen below.

While Hunt cannot comment directly on Gifford’s care, he can outline the treatment and recovery path of brain trauma patients suffering similar injuries. He can discuss neurologic function testing and the prospects of a positive outcome.

Hunt practices at the University of Minnesota Physicians Neurosurgery Clinic. His primary clinical specialties include general neurosurgery, neuro-oncology and spinal neurosurgery. He specializes in the treatment of primary and metastatic brain tumors.

To interview Hunt, contact Nick Hanson, Academic Health Center, at (612) 624-2449 or or Kelly O’Connor at (612) 624-5680 or

Tags: Academic Health Center

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audioDr. Matthew Hunt describes what takes place when an individual suffers head trauma resulting from a gunshot wound.