What Is Brain Death?

X-ray of brain in skull

X-ray of brain in skull

Usher’s eleven-year-old stepson, Kyle Glover, was recently declared brain dead after a passing jet skier collided with the boy, striking him in the head and knocking him unconscious.

READ: Usher’s Stepson Declared Brain Dead After Accidental Collision

What Is Brain Death?

This tragedy has many people wondering what exactly determines is someone is brain dead. Essentially, brain death can occur when the blood and oxygen supply to the brain is stopped. This can be caused by:

• Heart attack. A serious medical emergency that occurs when the blood supply to the heart is suddenly blocked.

• Stroke. A serious medical emergency that occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted.

• Blood clots. Blockages in one of your blood vessels that disturbs or blocks the flow of blood around your body.

Brain death can also occur as a result of:

• A serious head injury

• Infections, such as encephalitis (a viral infection of the brain)
a brain tumour (a growth of cells multiplying in an abnormal, uncontrollable way in the brain).

When Will a Doctor Declar Someone Brain Dead?

A diagnosis of brain stem death is considered when:

• A person fails to respond to any outside stimulation

• The person is unconscious

• The person’s heartbeat and breathing can only be maintained using a ventilator

• There is clear evidence that serious damage to the brain has occurred, and it cannot be cured

Before testing for brain stem death can begin, doctors must carry out a series of checks to make sure that the symptoms are not being caused by other factors. Possible factors include:

• An overdose of illegal drugs, tranquillisers, poisons or other chemical agents

• Having an abnormally low body temperature

• Having a condition that can affect the metabolism, such as diabetes or liver disease

Once these factors have been ruled out, a number of tests are carried out to confirm the diagnosis. The diagnosis of brain stem death has to be made by two senior doctors. Neither of them can be involved with the hospital’s transplant team.

The doctors will explain the tests to you, and will keep you informed about your loved one’s condition at all times.


The doctors will run a series of cognitive tests to determine the extent of brain damage. Both of them have to agree on the results for a diagnosis of brain death to be confirmed. The tests are carried out twice to minimise any chance of error.

Possible tests can include:

• A torch is shone into both eyes to see if they react to the light

• The cornea (transparent outer layer of the eye), which is normally very sensitive, is stroked with a tissue or piece of cotton wool

• Pressure is applied to the forehead and the nose is pinched to see if there is any movement in response

• Ice-cold water is squirted into each ear, which would normally cause the eyes to move

• The person is withdrawn from the ventilator for a short period of time to see if they make any attempt to breathe on their own

If a person fails to respond to these types of tests, a diagnosis of brain stem death is generally made.


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