Lobotomy refers to a special brain surgery used to treat various psychological conditions. Also known as leucotomy, the procedure is now discredited as it involves severing connections in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Previously, the patient’s skull was drilled and injected with ethanol, which destroyed critical nerve connections. Here are some mind-blowing lobotomy facts that you probably didn’t know.
1. Antonio Egas Moniz Started Lobotomy
Egas Moniz was a neurologist from Portugal credited with the development of cerebral angiography and lobotomy. He found out that abnormal neural connections in the frontal lobe caused mental illness, so he thought that surgically removing the white matter fibers would cure the disease. Moniz tested the procedure on 20 patients suffering from depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.
2. It Was Controversial From the Beginning
Even though lobotomy is discredited today, it was controversial from when it was first used. This was partly because many people did not know its severity and chronicity; it was considered an inappropriate treatment.
3. A Lobotomy Patient Died Because the Surgeon Was Trying to Take a Picture
An incident was once reported of a patient who died on the operating table while undergoing lobotomy. Apparently, the surgical tool went too deep into his brain as the surgeon was trying to take a picture.
4. President John F. Kennedy’s Sister Underwent Lobotomy
In 1941, President John F. Kennedy’s sister, Rosemary Kennedy, underwent a lobotomy that involved drilling holes on both sides of her head. A spatula was also inserted into her skull close to the frontal lobes, then turned and scrapped. She was incapacitated and institutionalized because of the procedure for the rest of her life.
5. The Person Who Started Lobotomy Was Awarded a Nobel Prize
In 1949, Egas Moniz, the person who developed the idea of lobotomy, was awarded a Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of the therapeutic value of leucotomy in certain psychoses. This resulted in a huge controversy. He shared the award with Walter Rudolf Hess, a Swiss physiologist, for showing the brain areas involved in controlling internal organs.
6. Demand for Lobotomy Procedures Spiked Between the 1940s and 1950s
The 1940s and 1950s saw the biggest spike in demand for lobotomy procedures. By 1951, estimates show that more than 20,000 lobotomies were performed in the United States; more figures were reported in the United Kingdom.
7. Lobotomy Had Severe Side Effects
While the intention of lobotomy was to reduce agitation, which most patients achieved, the procedure also resulted in severe side effects such as changes in appetite, brain infection, and seizures. Patients who underwent the surgery had to be trained for weeks.
8. Some People Who Underwent Lobotomy Committed Suicide
Even though some of the patients who underwent lobotomy exhibited positive attributes, others suffered severe brain damage, naturally died, or committed suicide; the procedure’s consequences were mixed.
9. A Man Was Accidentally Lobotomized in 1848
In 1848, Phineas Gage, an American railroad construction foreman, was “accidentally lobotomized.” A large rod accidentally drove entirely through his head, destroying the majority of his brain’s frontal lobe. Surprisingly, Gage survived and lived for 12 more years. However, he suffered massive behavioral changes that his friends “didn’t recognize” him. Scholars believe that this incident probably influenced the development of lobotomy.
10. The Phrase “Surgically Induced Childhood” Was Used to Refer to Lobotomy Results
Coined by Walter Freeman, an American physician specializing in lobotomy, the phrase “Surgically Induced Childhood” was used to describe the surgery results. According to medical experts, lobotomy left people with an “infantile personality,” a maturation period before patients finally recovered.
11. The First Lobotomy Series was initiated in 1935
Lobotomy started in Lisbon, Portugal. In 1935, the first lobotomy series was initiated by Egas Moniz at the Hospital Santa Marta. Miguel Bombarda Mental Hospital’s medical director provided the first selected patients. Walter Freeman performed the first lobotomy procedure at the George Washington University Hospital in the United States in 1936.
12. A Literary Award Saved Janet Frame from Lobotomy
Janet Frame was an internationally renowned writer from New Zealand who suffered years of psychiatric hospitalization. In 1951, she was scheduled to undergo lobotomy but received a Literary Award for one of her works days before her appointment. The procedure was canceled.
13. The Man Who Invented Lobotomy Was Shot and Paralyzed By One of His Patients
Several years after his lobotomy invention, Egas Moniz was shot and paralyzed by one of his patients who had schizophrenia. Some reports that the perpetrator was drooling, shouting, “Me want brain back!” Even though he continued with private practice until he died from an internal hemorrhage in 1955, Moniz had to rely on a wheelchair following the ordeal.
14. Thousands of Military Veterans Were Lobotomized after World War II
After World War II, about 2,000 military veterans who showed signs of mental illness were lobotomized. They included those who were diagnosed as psychotic depressives, people with schizophrenia, and those who identified as homosexuals. Anyone with PTSD symptoms was a candidate.
15. A Patient Who Blew Off A Part of Her Brain Relieved His Depressive Symptoms
A depressed patient once tried to commit suicide by blowing his head off with a gun. However, she survived, with only a part of her brain destroyed. Interestingly, the majority of her depressive symptoms subsided after that. This is similar to how lobotomy works.