Brain Surgery Changes Man's Life

By Abby Panayi

Meet Charlie Gordon

Charlie Gordon was a 32 year old intellectually disabled man who worked at Donner's Bakery. With an IQ of 68, he was only able to do simple tasks around the bakery like acting as a janitor and a delivery boy. So what's so special about Charlie? It would seem as if he was just a hopeless man cursed with a lack of intelligence, and would stay that way forever, but an opportunity came into Charlie's life that could flip his world upside down- an extraordinary brain surgery. The potential raise of Charlie's intelligence would change every aspect of his life, including his memories, career path, problem solving skills, relationships with friends and family, and more. As I watched Charlie begin his journey, I had three big questions: Would this unheard of transformation work? If so, how will it affect him? And most importantly, would this change be for the better or worse? I caught up with Charlie to figure out exactly that.

The surgery's impact

Before I even knew that he even had the surgery, (Charlie told me his story a while after this), I was beginning to notice a gradual change in Charlie. His social skills, grammar, speech, and general mental abilities were improving and the intellectual confinements that seemed to trouble him before were fading away. How could this be? I wondered. My curiosity got the best of me and I decided to dig deeper into the subject- I sparked a conversation with him. He told me about his procedure and although I was starting to see a change in him, I wasn't sure if the surgery would really do much. This was what led me to ask my first question: Would the transformation actually work? After seeing the incredible and apparent increase in his intelligence over a the next couple months, I realized that I was mistaken by assuming the changes would not be intense. My next question was answered over time: How would it affect him? Well for starters, his IQ was quickly growing and there were no limits to what he could learn, but what I noticed was how it changed his personality and personal life. Before the surgery he was a simple-minded sweetheart- a man filled with love and ignorance. After the surgery, he became a snappy and impatient genius- a man filled with cockiness and confusion. He began being bombarded with memories from his childhood and fears that blossomed from bad experiences. Every step he took that led him closer to becoming more of a genius was a step that led him farther away from his social capabilities with friends, love interests, and strangers. Alice Kinnian, his former teacher from the Beekman School for Retarded Adults, had this to say to Charlie about having a conversation with him nowadays: "I find myself wanting to impress you in a way I never thought about doing before, but being with you has undermined my self-confidence. I question my motives now, about everything I do". He had no patience for people who didn't understand the extremely smart conversations he started and he began looking down on people he would have looked up to pre-surgery. Dr. Strauss, one of the professionals working on the experiment, explained to Charlie why his new brain alterations were causing him to act this way like this: "The more intelligent you become the more problems you'll have, Charlie. Your intellectual growth is going to outstrip your emotional growth". The last question I had was one that I had to think about: Was his change for the better or worse? After considering the facts, I have decided that it is equally as troubling to be intellectually disabled as it is to be a genius. Either way, you are mentally so far away from the average person that it makes it almost impossible to genuinely connect to anyone. As for the question of whether the change was for better or for worse, that all depends on the way you look at it. Would you rather live by the phrase "ignorance is bliss", and live your life without ever being able to understand, or live by the phrase "knowledge is power", and live your life being able to understand too much? Only time will tell how Charlie's life will play out, and the ups and downs of being a genius.