Brain scientist's stroke offers new insight into the condition

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Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D., a 37-year-old Harvard-trained brain scientist who suffered a stroke in 1996, said she believes the catastrophic event was the best thing that could have happened to her.

Taylor chronicled her experiences in “My Stroke of Insight” (Penguin Group USA, 2006). Her honest and remarkable account reveals her gratitude for the condition. Gratitude? For a stroke? Taylor said she appreciates the many things she learned about how her brain works and the understanding she gained over the choices she can make daily about how to tend to the “garden in my mind … (that is) a sacred patch of cosmic real estate.”

Each year, nearly 800,000 Americans suffer some type of stroke, according to Yet this is the first book that describes in detail the experiences of suffering and recovering from a stroke by someone who studies the brain as her life’s work.

“My Stroke of Insight” is an excellent guide for someone who either has had a stroke or has a friend or relative who has had one. The book details the workings of the brain in layman’s terms, describes Taylor’s experience and outlines both her recovery and recommendations for people affected by the condition.

Taylor’s stroke occurred in the left hemisphere of her brain, depriving her initially of the ability to talk, understand the speech of others, walk and read. Light bothered her terribly, and she was unable to think in a linear manner. Interestingly, however, she writes that she was suffused with a profound sense of well-being and enjoyed many aspects of her new life: “I loved knowing my spirit was at one with the universe and in flow with everything around me.”

There were times when she even questioned the value of returning to her old self. But with surgery and the patient help of her mother, Taylor regained most of her previous functionality, began to teach anatomy classes and returned to her work for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Most important, Taylor explains the different ways the left and right hemispheres of the brain operate. She describes the workings of each half – noting that it is much more complicated than she previously realized – and writes that as we understand these differences better, we can make more informed choices about how we act in the world.

Taylor’s “stroke of insight” came from understanding that her right hemisphere contains a character connected to her feeling of inner peace – and she hopes readers will understand as well.

Leslie Ashmore is a longtime Mountain View resident who belongs to two book clubs.

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