Britney Spears’ Niece—A Walking Miracle

It is remarkable what youth teaches us about the resilience of the human body, particularly the brain.

This came to mind when my colleague Dr. David Poulad was recently quoted on E! News discussing the near-drowning of entertainer Britney Spears’ niece, Maddie Aldridge.

Aldridge, the eight-year-old daughter of Britney’s sister, Jamie Lynn Spears, suffered serious injuries in an ATV accident when the vehicle flipped over into a pond. Subsequently, the child spent several minutes submerged underwater. When she was removed by emergency medical staff, she was unconscious, not breathing and had no pulse, necessitating CPR. After being treated in the hospital, she miraculously regained consciousness and by all appearances, did not suffer any neurological consequences.

What are the mechanisms of this accident and the process for such an astonishing recovery? Dr. Poulad addressed this in the media inquiry:

“Being submerged in water deprives the brain of oxygen, which kills the brain cells. But not all those brain cells will die within minutes. The ischemic penumbra area may still remain viable. (Penumbra is the area of tissue surrounding an ischemic event, meaning lack of oxygenated blood flow to the brain.) This brain tissue can even last for some hours—from three to four. So, while brain tissue does die, some parts of it have some viable recovery within a greater window of time.”

At IGEA Brain & Spine, we often speak to patients and the community about neuroplasticity or brain plasticity. That comes into play when considering this accident. Here is Dr. Poulad’s explanation in discussing the little girl’s case:

“The fact (that so soon) she is walking is amazing. Walking involves so many higher circuits of brain function to perform, and for all that to function means she’s doing remarkably well. The fact she’s a very young person plays in her favor. Children have significant plasticity (ability for brain regrowth, healing) in their brain. They’re probably most likely to overcome hypoxia.”

And overcome she did. Maddie Aldridge’s story is a cautionary tale; fortunately, one with a happy ending.

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.