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Fredrik Nildén Fredrik.Nilden.7943 at student.uu.se
Wed Aug 21 17:00:50 EST 1996

hbedp010 at csun.edu (lori jones) wrote:

>Can anyone give me info/details on the guy in the 19C who survived a RR
>spike through the brain?  What was his name and where can I find out more
>about his case?  You can email me directly if you want to.  Thanks

hbedp010 at csun.edu (lori jones) wrote:

>Can anyone give me info/details on the guy in the 19C who survived a RR
>spike through the brain?  What was his name and where can I find out more
>about his case?  You can email me directly if you want to.  Thanks

His name was Phineas Gage

This is an article found at 


all rights owned by the author  James Shreeve

What Happened to Phineas?

Attend the tale of Phineas Gage. Honest, well liked by friends and
fellow workers on the Rutland and Burlington Railroad,
Gage was a young man of exemplary character and promise until one day
in September 1848. While tamping down the
blasting powder for adynamite charge, Gage inadvertently sparked an
explosion. The inch-thick tamping rod rocketed through
his cheek, obliterating his left eye on its way through his brain and
out the top of his skull. The rod landed several yards away,
and Gage fell back in a convulsive heap. Yet a moment later he stood
up and spoke; his fellow workers watched, aghast, then
drove him by oxcart to a hotel, where a local doctor, one John Harlow,
dressed his wounds. As Harlow stuck his index fingers
into the holes in Gage's face and head until their tips met, the young
man inquired when he would be able to return to work.

Within two months, the physical organism that was Phineas Gage had
completely recovered--he could walk, speak, and
demonstrate normal awareness of his surroundings. But the character of
the man did not survive the tamping rod's journey
through his brain. In place of the diligent, dependable worker stood a
foulmouthed and ill-mannered liar given to extravagant
schemes that were never followed through. "Gage," said his friends,
"was no longer Gage. 

This past year neurobiologists Hanna and Antonio Damasio of the
University of Iowa finally pinpointed what Gage had lost.
The Damasios had long been interested in the case; in the intervening
century it had become a classic in neurology textbooks.
The scientific interest had begun with John Harlow, who on hearing of
Gage's death in an epileptic fit 13 years after the
accident persuaded the family to exhume the remains and donate the
skull to medical research. Harlow believed that the
change in Gage's personality had been wrought by damage to the frontal
lobes of the brain. "The equilibrium . . . between his
intellectual faculties and animal propensities seems to have been
destroyed," Harlow wrote. 

But nineteenth-century science had a hard time accepting the notion
that a dollop of gray jelly could govern something so
transcendent as social behavior. "Harlow was never given much credit,"
says Antonio Damasio. "Some people didn't even
believe that Gage's story had ever happened. 

So the Damasios decided, 130 years after the fact, to do an
autopsy--to track down where, exactly, the damage in Gage's
brain had occurred. Guided by anatomic clues on Gage's battered skull,
now preserved in the Warren Medical Museum at
Harvard, Hanna Damasio used computer modeling and neural imaging
techniques to determine the path the tamping rod had
taken through the brain. The most likely trajectory by far, the
Damasios found, would have spared the regions of the frontal
lobes necessary for language and motor function. But it would have
done ruinous damage to a portion of the underbelly of the
frontal lobes called the ventromedial region, especially on the left

Apparently the loss of that region is what made Gage so antisocial.
This did not surprise the Damasios; in present-day patients
whose ventromedial region has been damaged by tumor, accident, or
surgery, they have observed the same sort of personality
change as Gage's. But it was gratifying to solve a case that was at
the root of so much modern research--and at the same time
to pay homage to an underappreciated predecessor. "Gage's story was
the historical beginnings of the study of the biological
basis of behavior," says Antonio Damasio, "and the location of his
lesion had always been a mystery. This was a way to give
poor Dr. Harlow his due." --James Shreeve 

This was also  found on the web. The page includes an image of Phineas


Phineas Gage was a construction foreman for the Rutland and Burlington
Railroad. On the morning of September 13, 1848, this 25 year old
railroad man
survived one of the most bizarre and brutal accidents ever recorded in

Phineas was packing a load of explosives into the earth, when the
accidentally exploded. An iron tamping rod that he was using was
like a rocket and hit him in the head. The rod was 3 feet 7 inches
long and
weighed 13 pounds! It hit Phineas in the left cheek, went straight
his skull and brain and came out the top of his head. 

His co-workers loaded him into an oxcart and took him to a hotel where
were two doctors. They cleaned out the terrible wound, and all the
Phineas never lost consciousness. Over the next couple of weeks, he
severely, became quite confused, and lost the sight in his left eye.
However, he
lived for 13 more years which astounded all those who treated him. 

The most amazing thing about what happened here is that the head is
very sensitive to injury, especially injuries that damage the brain.
The main
problem with head injuries is the bleeding and swelling that usually
However, Phineas suffered a massive injury and survived. It was noted,
at the
time, that the injury did cause a change in personality. This was the
result of
destruction of some of the areas of the brain that are responsible for

The skull of Phineas Gage and the metal rod that injured him are
currently on
display at the Warren Anatomical Museum (Boston, MA). 

There are also several books covering the subject

Good luck!

Fredrik Nildén

Dept. of Developmental Neuroscience

Uppsala University 
Box 587

Fredrik.Nilden at Bmc.uu,se

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