By Dr. Dave Hnida

(CBS4) – The title of the article is “The man who lost (part of) his mind.” Rather dramatic for a medical journal, but in this case, it actually is intended to tell the story of a man who had the front half of his brain replaced by air.

It’s an actual case of an actual disorder: one called pneumocephalus—which in medical terms means air in the brain or skull.

The case is reported in the British Medical Journal, and describes an 84-year-old man who developed problems keeping his balance, and experiencing episodes of numbness and weakness on the left side of his body.

Doctors worried the gentleman was suffering a stroke, and performed scans to examine the brain. Yet when they looked, they found half of the right side of the brain was replaced by air. Room air. As in air we breathe.

So, doctors ran down the most common causes of pneumocephalus. But the answers gave no clue.

No history of trauma.

No history of surgery.

No history of congenital birth defects.

Further tests then showed the reason… a problem with one of the sinuses in the man’s head, specifically the small one behind the eyes and separated from the brain by a thin wall of bone.

It seems the man had developed a benign tumor in the sinus (unusual), which then wore away the thin wall and allowed air to seep into the skull. Even more unusual, the air could seep in but because of the shape of the hole it couldn’t seep back out again.

 When Half Of Your Brain Is Replaced By Air: A True Medical Story

Half brain/Half Air
(courtesy British Medical Journal)

Doctors had (and have) no idea how long it took for this to happen.

In any case, the patient decided: no surgery. “I’m actually feeling pretty good.”

He instead opted for medication to protect the rest of the brain and prevent stroke or other damage.

The rest of the brain, amazing as it seems, took over for the part of the missing brain (which simply was absorbed away) and the man regained his balance and had no further problems with numbness or weakness.

At his three-month checkup after diagnosis and treatment, the man with half a brain was happy and well.

As doctor, I have no comment. And I think all of us who have read this case report simply don’t know what to make of it.

But the bottom line remains that the man is well, and the human body remains an amazing thing that we don’t always understand.

Dr. Dave Hnida is CBS4’s Medical Editor. He blogs about the latest studies and trends in the health world. Read his latest blog entries, check out his bio or follow him on Twitter @drdavehnida


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