Walking, Talking After Gunshot to the Head

Rare survivors can walk, talk or even make tea after a gunshot to the head.

ByABC News
April 20, 2009, 6:11 PM

April 21, 2009— -- A Mississippi woman gave police quite a surprise last Tuesday night after deputies stepped over the body of her estranged husband on the back porch and entered the couple's rural home.

Tammy Sexton, 57, sat up in bed and offered the officers a drink quite unaware that a bullet had struck beneath her left eye and exited out the back of her head.

"She had fixed herself some tea and she was holding a rag to her head," said Mike Byrd, sheriff of Jackson County, Miss. "She didn't realize that she had been shot."

"When the officer realized how badly she was injured he called for help," said Byrd.

Not only has Sexton survived her estranged husband's murder-suicide plot, she has since survived an airlift to a hospital in Mobile, Ala., and was last listed in fair condition.

Though the examples are few and far between, brain injury experts say cases of people walking and talking with gunshot wounds to the head are an example of the complexity of the human brain.

Patrick Ireland, a survivor of the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, is living proof of the brain's remarkable structure.

Ireland was shot twice in the head, once in the foot, and had lost feeling in half his body before climbing out a window to safety during the infamous shooting spree.

Today, Ireland is married and works as a financial planner in Denver. He had to learn how to walk again after the shootings and gave up basketball, but he can still go water skiing, according to reporting by ABC's Kate Snow.

"Certain parts of the brain are absolutely mission critical for every kind of function," explained Dr. Stephan Mayer, a professor of neurology and neurosurgery at Columbia University and New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.

"[Hit] one spot of the brain stem and you're in a coma, you're paralyzed for the rest of your life," said Mayer. "But there are other, huge amounts of the brain, vast areas that seem to serve no specific function if you remove it or damage it."