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Patchwork Labyrinth

A portrait of neuroplasticity

When an oncoming car turned into Dr. Susan Hummel’s path, the collision forever alters the trajectory of her life. In the hospital, she senses that comprehension and perception differ markedly from before. That was in 1993, when closed-head injuries were poorly understood and practical help for them was limited. Susan’s belief in a full recovery fuels the discipline to focus, first on finishing graduate school in forest science and then on her family and research career. Instead of chasing relief for persistent symptoms, she tracks discoveries in neuroscience, attending to how they match her lived experiences. By 2012 advances in testing and diagnosis identify tiny holes in the bony labyrinth between Susan’s brain and inner ear. They leak sound and tweak balance. Surgeries to patch the holes bring mixed success. Through it all, she observes therapeutic benefits from daily walks, low-sodium nutrition, plant and animal ecologies, repetitive handwork, and writing.

Patchwork Labyrinth: a portrait of neuroplasticity personalizes advances in neuroscience by viewing them through a lens of traumatic brain injury (TBI). It is a timely story. Every year, millions of people are affected by TBI, with direct and indirect costs running to billions of dollars. Falls, military combat, motor vehicle collisions, sports, and violence top the current list. Help for survivors, who come from all walks of life, remains inadequate given the promise that neuroscience research and its clinical application holds for their improved recovery. This book celebrates the human capacity for learning, considers the interplay of trauma and theories of embodied cognition, and proposes an ecology of health to replace prevailing models of patient care. Susan’s story testifies to the value of embracing curiosity as she imagines what rich discoveries await.