Jules Bianchi: Diffuse axonal injury explained

By Justin Stephenson.

Jules BianchiThe Russian GP this past weekend marked one week since Jules Bianchi’s horrific accident in the Japanese GP. While debate continues on the safety of F1 and future interventions for the sport, Bianchi remains in hospital with ‘diffuse axonal injury’.

Diffuse axonal injuries occur when a person’s head violently decelerates and rotates. This traumatic injury to the brain can result in nerve fibres/axons being damaged, leading to further complications such as internal bleeding and swelling.

Given that Bianchi underwent surgery on the same day as the incident it is possible a pressured bleed occurred as a result of the injury, which required surgical intervention.

Bianchi is of course not the first motoring personality to have suffered such an injury; Richard Hammond and Sir Sterling Moss have both suffered from forms of traumatic brain injury.

Both Hammond and Moss went on to write books about their recovery periods. Hammond highlighted several difficulties in which he had to relearn certain behaviours.

The recovery from such injuries differs from person to person as the prognosis and rehabilitation largely depends on the areas of the brain, which were damaged. Moss spoke strongly about his limited motor function, which confined him to a wheel chair following his accident.

The ability for ones brain to recover lies within the plasticity of the human brain. Following a traumatic brain injury the brain seeks to re-establish connects, so to speak, while some of the pathways may have been damaged beyond repair, the brain may seek to find new pathways to preserve functioning.

An important part of this recovery lies in the treatment of persons having suffered such an injury, which is why patients are often kept sedated or in a medical coma in order to preserve brain functioning and allow for healing to occur. If the person is woken straight away their brain may be in a state of hyper arousal, which may cause further damage.

The Formula 1 community faces a long journey in the Jules Bianchi story. All of our prayers are with him and his family on his road to recovery.