Brains R’ Us

Last Friday evening Dave and I represented the Maine Brain Aneurysm Awareness Committee at the Brain Fair presented by UNE Center for Excellence in the Neurosciences.

This fourth annual event, held at the Harold Alfond Forum at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine was a wonderful, interactive event for all ages.

Attendees were able to enjoy fun and engaging hands-on activities, presentations, and exhibits. They also found neuroanatomy displays, sheep brain dissections and microscope set-ups where they could observe a variety of microscopic brain pictures. There were also games for the kids and a “Protect The Egg” egg drop creating a fun and educational event for kids and adults alike.

Michael Birman, Ph.D., associate professor of neuroscience and faculty coordinator for the UNE Center for Excellence in the Neurosciences K-12 Outreach Program said it best when he explained, “We want to share with the public how amazing the brain is and how important it is to keep it safe. It’s so critical for every aspect of our life and yet also so fragile.”

Keeping the brain safe was also the highlighted message for the Michael T. Goulet Foundation and their bicycle helmet-fitting and brain injury prevention program. Michael Goulet died at the young age of 21 after suffering a brain injury at 13 and later seizures. His family has devoted their lives to increasing awareness, prevention and improved treatment for seizure disorders and brain injuries. It was wonderful to see so many children picking up new bike helmets and we are proud of our friendship with the Goulet Foundation.

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Many people stopped at our table and wanted to learn about brain aneurysms and several people had relatives who had suffered aneurysms. We were a little unprepared for the children who were there and their questions. While trying not to scare them, we wanted to give them honest answers and still give them something to learn and take away with them. Next time, we’ll come with something a little more fun for the kids.

Dave is much better at starting conversations at these types of events than I am. And I am NOT at my best late Friday afternoon and early evening after a full work week. My conversations had a lot of stops and starts and a lot of fighting to find the right words. Hopefully I made some sense to those in attendance.

As the crowd thinned out, Dave and I were able to wander around together and see the real stars of the show — BRAINS! And I mean REAL brains. They had about 10 human brains to view. Many were healthy brains, but about half of them had some kind of disease or malformation. One even had the full spinal chord attached. It was creepy, but cool.

We were truly fascinated to see the size of a real brain and see the inside of one. Also viewing the Circle of Willis, where the majority of brain aneurysms occur was riveting. My rupture was from that area. Once we told the doctor that was where my annie was, he pointed out that specific area.

One of the brains was from a person who had had a stroke. The damage done to the brain was visibly disturbing but fascinating and a scary indication of what can happen. A large area on the top of the brain was a dark gray color and had collapsed compared to the other side. We were told that person would have suffered disabilities on the other side of the body.

Another brain had a large segment of the dura around it, which is the protective covering of the brain. When a brain aneurysm ruptures, it’s the blood that gets caught between the brain and the dura where damage can occur. The dura is also cut and pulled back to reveal the arteries and brain during a craniotomy, which is what happened to me on my 2nd brain aneurysm. I was intrigued by this brain and the dura. Truly amazing how thin this covering was.

The brains represented here could be held comfortably in both hands. I’m not sure what I was expecting with regards to the size, but I thought it might be bigger. It was the size of the main arteries that really surprised me. The were much larger than I thought. And to think my first brain aneurysm, at almost 1/2″ in diameter, was sticking out of one of those…again…fascinating and scary.

The brain controls EVERYTHING we do. When it’s assaulted by blood and suffers injury, the time needed to recover and rebuild takes longer. It has to…it’s the motherboard for all of our circuits.

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