Stroke Recovery in Stained Glass

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, neuroanatomist and spokesperson for the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center at McLean Hospital, suffered an AVM stroke seven years ago that left her without math, language, and other left-hemisphere processing skills. With grittiness, family support and her professional knowledge about the brain and its plasticity, she regained capabilities in innovative ways beyond traditional stroke rehabilitation methods.

By creating stained glass brains art became both a means of expression and a logical therapeutic tool. Their beauty is almost a byproduct - except that understanding the value of being immersed in moments of appreciating beauty was another major lesson.

I asked her a few questions about her art prior to the release of her memoir, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey, a fascinating and inspiring account of how and what she recovered and even gained from the experience.


In your designs, how much were you drawing from experience looking at and handling brains, compared to images in neuroanatomy books [which she referred to for refreshment after the stroke]?

I have a 3 dimensional picture of the brain in my mind's eye and the stained glass brain image is my artistic impression of the different parts of the organ and how they intersect. It is a composite of how others depict the brain in 2 dimension and what I know to be true about the brain in 3 dimension from dissection.

How much is science, how much is art, and how do they intersect for you?

I am an artist in my heart and chose to apply my art to science in order to make a living. All of my scientific projects are aesthetically beautiful - wait till you see my triple immunofluorescence study where we visualized 3 neurotransmitter systems in the same piece of tissue! Art is beauty to me, the brain is beautiful to me, therefore the brain is beautiful art to me whether in glass or in our heads.

In the photo you sent, your design seems a mix of the two. I recognize some brain structures but some (like the multicoloured areas along the top of the cerebellum) seem to represent something else? Symbolism?

The texture of the glass of the cerebellum is different than any other glass in the brain. I chose a feathered looking glass because the cerebellar tissue looks feathered when viewed under the microscope. The brain is anatomically correct from the level of the cingulate gyrus (orange band) down, the blue is the induseum griseum - the band surrounding the fibers of the corpus callosum (red/orange opaque piece). I chose opaque for the corpus callosum to indicate its density of fibers. Each of the nodules represents something specific - the RED for the amygdala (rage and fear), green for hippocampus (memory and learning), two purples - the pineal (third eye) and the pituitary (hormones). In my newer brains I always make the most posterior portion of the brain in a black/white stripe for the visual cortex V1 of blobs and interblobs, V2 Stripes and interstripes.

This was a form of art therapy; what differences did you notice between your recovery and others who didn't benefit from it? Were certain abilities re-established more easily or quickly?

I cannot compare this project to anyone else's recovery. All I can do is speak to what it helped me with.

1. Balance and equilibrium to stand still in front of a workspace and manipulate the project.
2. Gross motor movement, handling glass is very delicate and dangerous, I was highly motivated to be very careful for both the glass and myself.
3. Fine motor dexterity, cutting glass is a precise activity, grinding glass requires holding my body firm - equilibrium, pushing into the grinder - gross motor and then lining all of the pieces up - fine motor.
4. Cognitive development - this type of a project is a long term project with lots of steps. It helped me in my linear thinking.
5. Cartoon development of the original image required a combination of intuition and sensory organization.
6. Focus and concentration balanced with sleep.
7. Artistry - how does one tweak it all to make it remarkable and beautiful.

What about your creative thinking?

When I lost my left hemisphere I lost all of the normal 'in the box' thinking. When we think about shifts in the brain it is inadequate to focus on the loss because with every loss there is a gain. As a society we do not focus on what someone has gained in the absence of something they have lost. When I lost the ability to define, organize and categorize information, I gained the ability to be intuitive and creative. In the absence of the left mind and its dominating inhibition, I gained a completely uninhibited right mind which processes information in a completely unique way when compared to
the left mind.


Thank you Dr. Bolte Taylor! Abject apologies for the inexcusable delay in my posting this interview. It is, however, a timeless testament to resilience and creative spirit.

NOTE: The Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center is in urgent need of brain tissue from America. Please call 1-800-BRAINBANK to learn more. Also, read My Stroke of Insight for the story of how that toll-free number helped save Dr. Bolte Taylor's life.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is one more person we can all add to our list of heros. I wish I could create ANYTHING, stained glass or not. This woman has created a career in positivly touching the lives around her in any way possible. I just saw a piece about her on the Science channel and now know why I got up an hour early today. I needed to here her story. Thank you for who you are.

9/7/07 05:57  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been recommending a book by Jill Bolte Taylor called "My Stroke of Insight" to everyone I know. It's an amazing story, both uplifting and powerful on three levels: physical, emotional, and spiritual, but the spiritual aspect alone makes this the best book I've read all year.

How often do you get to hear a neuroscientist describe having a stroke, nearly dying and finding Nirvana, and then making a miraculous recovery so that she's back to teaching medical students!?!

I came away with a renewed sense of understanding, wonder and hopefulness about the capabilities of the human brain. I give "My Stroke of Insight" highest marks!

You can get the book for just $16.47 with free shipping from Amazon!
Name: Steve

19/5/08 21:02  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The New York Times Sunday Newspaper on May 25 had a great two page article on Jill Bolte Taylor and her book, "MY STROKE OF INSIGHT". Her book is a must read and this NY Times article - called "A Superhighway to bliss" is worth checking out too.

29/5/08 05:21  

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