May 23, 2011
Rick Madhok, MD
As reported by the Associated Press, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords underwent surgery to restore part of her skull that was removed during her initial operation to allow for brain swelling after she suffered a gun-shot wound to the head this past January.
Restoring the part of the skull that was removed is routine if the patient has a good outcome to replace the defect. While this procedure is still considered brain surgery, there are much fewer risks than with the initial operation. To replace the part of the skull, certain types of plastic or titanium mesh can be used to recreate it. Keep in mind, the purpose of the skull is to provide a protective barrier to the brain; this can be accomplished with bone or a specially designed material.
One of the most significant developments in this area is custom-designed implants. As such, using fine computed tomography (CT) scans, each implant is made to fit and recreate the skull so the overall fit is as if the original bone itself were replaced. Custom implants are a major advance in restoring the normal appearance of the skull and a procedure such as the one Congresswoman Giffords is receiving, is relatively common.