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In the last two decades alone, the medical world has gained an increased understanding of the brain and how it responds to injury. While we still know relatively little about this important organ, it has led to some important moments.

There have been a few cases in particular that have shaped not only psychology but the way that the brain is treated for injury.

Phineas Gage

Gage, who had a metal rod lodged in his skull, became an incident for the ages. After a brief bout of unconsciousness, Gage was able to make it to see Dr. Harlow. He was able to walk himself up the stairs to see the doctor to receive treatment.

What is remarkable about this case is not merely that Gage survived. It is that the injury and damage to his frontal lobe actually caused his personality to change. This taught us about the behaviors associated with that frontal lobe injury as well as the possibility of recovering from such catastrophic damage.

Louis Victor Leborgne

More famously known as “Tan”, Leborgne came under the care of French physician Pierre Paul Broca with gangrene in his right leg. When Broca was called to care for him, it is what he observed that led to greater significance. “Tan” could no longer speak, though he clearly understood all that was said to him.

What is most interesting is that his communication happened with the left hand. With further study, it became clear that the left hemisphere of the brain controlled speech and expressive language. This allowed for further study and development of the theory, which would be confirmed throughout medical texts over the years.

Auguste Deter

Deter was a 51-year-old woman who had been admitted to an asylum in Frankfurt due to rapid memory loss, disorientation, and a fixed delusion that someone was trying to kill her. She was examined by a neuropathologist by the name of Alois Alzheimer.

If the name sounds familiar, that is because it was this case that led to the discovery of Alzheimer’s disease. This was one of the first cases that would lead Alzheimer to investigate the clinico-anatomic method, which establishes core elements of the disease that now bears his name.