A 24-year-old woman in China’s Shandong earned she had been living without an entire component of a vital organ when she went to the Chinese PLA General Hospital of Jinan Military Command complaining of unexplained vomiting and nausea that she experienced for a month.
The woman is missing a giant chunk of brain: the cerebellum. The cerebellum is a part of the brain involved with coordinating smooth body movements. She has suffered from dizziness and a hard time walking stably for more than 20 years.
According to New Scientist, one of the reasons this woman’s case is so special is that most people missing their cerebellum die young and the missing brain structure is only found in an autopsy.
Though she stood and walked by herself at later ages than most children and had unintelligible speech until she was 6 years old, she was considered to have “mild mental impairment and medium motor deficits,” the case study about the woman published in the journal Brain said.
Doctors were amazed to learn that she is married and had a successful pregnancy of her own. It wasn’t until she was in the hospital that doctors found she was missing her entire cerebellum.
Given the extent of her condition, the doctors wrote that her symptoms were “less than would be expected in [complete]absence of the cerebellum.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, people who have strokes affecting their cerebellum experience dizziness, nausea and other problems. New Scientist reported that the cerebellum accounts for just 10 percent of the brain’s volume but holds 50 percent of its neurons.
“There are very few reported cases of complete cerebellar agenesis, making it challenging and controversial to understand the degree of cerebellum development necessary to avoid deficits in motor and non-motor functions,” the study authors wrote. “Further, a detailed description of neurological findings in a living adult with cerebellar agenesis is almost non-existent; most cases are reported based on autopsy reports.”
The doctors in this woman’s case believe that other parts of her brain took over some of the function of her missing cerebellum.
“These rare cases are interesting to understand how the brain circuitry works and compensates for missing parts,” Mario Manto, a scientist at Free University of Brussels, told New Scientist.