A SPECT brain scan, unlike an MRI or a CT scan, shows you areas of your brain than are inactive due to prior damage. Areas of previous concussions look like black holes where the where the brain activity has gone dark.   

Write up by Shawn Dollar

Patient Experiences

December 31, 2015 I did my first SPECT imaging at the Amen clinic. SPECT Imaging is a 3D image of the brain that lights up the areas where blood flows. My SPECT image showed a lot of brain damage and places where there was no blood flow. No blood flow is basically a dead area. My holes and dents in my brain were all over, top and bottom, side to side. It was not just the area of recent injury I had sustained in Big Sur.   It wasn’t the picture of yourself  would ever want to see, but trust me it’s not close to the worst NFL Players’ scans they have done. 

I sat down with Dr. Emina and he explained to Jenn and me that I had significant damage and that my brain had been experiencing a lot trauma from Pro Surfing for a long time. He explained that my images looked similar to the scans of many NFL players they treat. To put that in context, I’ve never played football, but I looked like I had played in high school, college and Pro Football. I realized big wave surfing is far more risky than I ever thought. I was truly shocked.   On the bright side, my wife Jenn, and I, now had a much clearer understanding of what I was dealing with. It was my true diagnosis. Not a Neurologists’s ‘best guess’. It explained a lot. It explained everything about my chaotic thought life and my unstable and volatile behavior.   

My MRIs had shown nothing. And CT scans would have shown nothing. They are a completely different kind of imaging. They show structures, but they do not show blood flow. Everyone else to this point said I was “fine”, “Everything looks good.”,But I now had clear medical proof to support what I was feeling.   It was a great relief. For me that meant I wasn’t confused as to why I was so unstable and feeling so horrible. For my wife, she now understood I was seriously hurt and that that person she married before was now a very different man. She realized that I needed love, support and her patience to get better. Outwardly I had looked so “Well”. She began to have more compassion for me that she had ever had before. It brought us much closer.  

Understanding the benefits of a SPECT scan can be simply put like this:  If you think you may have broken your arm you to go get x-rays, because it’s important to know if it is broken. If an x-ray reveals it is indeed broken you put a cast on it and let it heal. If it’s not broken, just damaged, you slow down and let it heal until things get back to normal. But the x-ray gives proof of a serious injury, the exact kind of injury, and dictates the best route to healing.    A SPECT scan is your ‘cerebral x-ray’. It clearly shows the extent of brain damage, shows the severity and areas that need treatment. And the Amen Clinics can set up your game plan to heal. You get guidance and direction for all kinds of therapies that can be super helpful. 

Shawn Dollar