Here’s a tripper: French researchers have reported that a man with an unusually small brain has been living a healthy, functional life as a civil servant and family man in France. MRI scans of the 44-year-old man’s brain showed that most of the room in the cranium was filled by a fluid filled chamber called a ventricle. Only a small, thin sheet of brain tissue was actually present.

The “small brained” man lived a very normal life; he was married with two children and worked as a civil servant (insert dumb joke here). He went to the hospital after suffering mild weakness in his left leg. Upon taking his medical history, doctors uncovered that he had a shunt inserted into his brain to treat him for hydrocephalus – water on the brain – as an infant. The shunt was removed when he was fourteen. Intelligence tests showed the man to have an IQ of 75, below the average score of 100 but not considered mentally retarded or disabled, either.

This story felt very satisfying to me because I’ve always been a little put off by the concept of a birth “defect”. Defective? According to who? What defect makes a human being defective? I know, I know…some variations threaten life. However, I’d argue that life spans vary – doesn’t make that individual defective in my eyes. Many people are born with circumstances that take them outside of the norm – heart murmurs, polydactyly, sickle cell, lactose intolerance, cleft palate, and now, small brains – they still can live rich rewarding lives within their own unique limits. You’ve got limits too, and so do I – doesn’t make us defective – so why someone with Downs Syndrome? I know of people with Downs Syndrome who live independently, work for a living, pay their rent, and LOVE their lives. And a man in France with a smaller brain is, I’m quite certain, happy to be alive.

As Dr. Max Muenke, a pediatric brain defect specialist at the National Human Genome Research Institute puts it, “What I find amazing to this day is how the brain can deal with something which you think should not be compatible with life. If something happens very slowly over quite some time, maybe over decades, the different parts of the brain take up functions that would normally be done by the part that is pushed to the side.” Ah, the miraculous adaptability of the human body. Makes you sort of rethink the notion of being defective, doesn’t it?

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