Can we grow our brain?

Story of hope: Noah Wall “the boy born with 2% of his brain”

Written by guest author, Melody Crowle

 

Scientists would agree that we can grow new cells in our bodies, but is it possible to grow a whole new brain from just 2%?   

Michelle and Rob were expecting a baby boy .  At the 12 week scan, their baby was diagnosed with Spina Bifida (a neural tube defect that can cause physical and intellectual disabilities) and hydrocephalus (excess fluid in the brain which can cause permanent brain damage).    

Shortly after Noah was born, an MRI scan revealed that because of the fluid, only 2% of his brain had grown.  The doctors offered abortion to Noah’s parents on 5 occasions and by the time of the birth, Michelle and Rob were planning his funeral.  If he survived the birth, he was not expected to live long at all.    

Instead, Noah was born with a cry that told his parents “I want to live”.  They became convicted about doing everything they possibly could to ensure not just that he survived, but made the best of what he was given. He soon became a medical phenomenon by making unexpected progress.    

During his development, Michelle and Rob massaged Noah’s body continuously, stimulating the neurons in his brain to connect his peripheral and central nervous systems. They worked tirelessly at moving his body for him and then encouraged him to move himself. Noah was also gifted with an unstoppable spirit.   

As he progressed, Noah was encouraged to use both hands wherever possible. Unknowingly, this activated the neurons which connected both sides of his brain through the corpus callosum, otherwise known as “the brain’s super highway for learning”[1].  He also played instruments and listened to music.    

This is unconventional.  It is the norm to keep a child in this situation safe in a bed or humidicrib, waiting for what was ‘inevitable’.  But with all the movement, at the age of 3 and after an MRI, it was discovered that his brain had grown to 80%!   In the YouTube link below, you can see his brain scans for yourself.

What have we learnt from Noah?   

  • There is so much more for us to learn about the brain.  Noah’s case is an extreme one because of his young age and unconventional treatment.  But it also means that we give up too easily when it comes to brain injuries and learning challenges. 
  • Music is important in development.  Studies have shown that music is also beneficial for development as pattern recognition and listening to lyrics aids in later success in reading. [2] 
  • Engaging both brain hemispheres is beneficial.  Noah’s parents encouraged him to use both hands when doing tasks and this activated both hemispheres of his brain. Studies show that using your non-dominant hand during everyday tasks such as brushing your teeth can also activate your brain and decrease neurodegeneration.  
  • Despite the doctors’ predictions and the diagnosis, Michelle and Rob’s love, attention and perseverance aided Noah’s neurodevelopment immeasurably.  He is now capable of doing so many exciting new things today, including surfing!    

Check out his story on YouTube here .

Neurogenesis is the birth of new brain cells. It was believed that this only occurred in youth, however it is now documented that neurogenesis occurs throughout life. It occurs mainly in the hippocampus that is responsible for creating memories. Neuroplasticity is the formation of new neural connections that allow the brain to adapt to each situation it finds itself in.  Which describes, neurologically, how we learn.   

Children and adults with learning challenges, who struggle with listening, reading and understanding, often have AuditoryProcessing Disorder (APD).  It is a difficulty with processing and understanding sounds including spoken words.  It is not a volume related hearing problem.    

With an evidence-based, online program designed to strengthen the auditory processing pathways in the brain, Brain Wise Learning has already improved the ability to learn for many children.   

Noah’s story is an incredible one.  It demonstrates how we have underestimated the brain and how it adapts to the demands placed on it. But it is also a story of hope for thousands of people.   

Brain Wise Learning wishes to thank Noah, Michelle and Rob for sharing their story. 

   

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[1] Integrated Learning Strategies, 2016, First published June 8, CorpusCallosum: Your Child’s Superhighway for Connecting the Emotional and Logical Sides of the Brain for Better Learning (link).

[2] K Overy, 2001, First Published October 1, Dyslexia, Temporal Processing and Music: The Potential of Musicas an Early Learning Aid for Dyslexic Children. (link).

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