Picks and Pans Review: Spotlight On...
A REAL LIFE-AND-DEATH E.R. DRAMA
NEW YORK CITY NEUROSURGEON Jamshid Ghajar's most famous patient remains anonymous: She is the 33-year-old piano teacher who, on June 4, 1996, was so brutally beaten by a drifter in Manhattan's Central Park that her head swelled to the size of a pumpkin and for two weeks she lay in a coma.
The case put Ghajar, 45, and the innovative approach to brain injury he helped develop, in the spotlight. He returns there on Oct. 7 when PBS airs the Nova documentary "Coma." In it, Ghajar is seen treating a 9-year-old boy who is comatose after being struck by a car. As with the piano teacher (who today, says Ghajar, "is making an excellent recovery"), the child develops a dangerously high buildup of spinal fluid that causes his brain to swell. But by draining the fluid and, most importantly, says Ghajar, rigorously monitoring brain pressure—something a 1991 study revealed only 30 percent of hospitals do—he brings the boy out of his coma 15 days later. Ghajar, the Berkeley, Calif.-born grandson of the late shah of Iran's personal physician, is hoping the protocol will be instituted nationwide. If adopted, he says, up to 20,000 lives a year could be saved.
Single, Ghajar appears wedded to his work. "He's flying all over the world trying to get these guidelines established in other places," says fellow neurosurgeon Dr. Raj Narayan. "It is a labor of love."