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Kadhaya David Muballe, Timothy Hardcastle and Erastus Kiratu


Penetrating traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) can be divided into gunshot wounds or stab wounds based on the mechanisms of injury. Pediatric penetrating TBIs are of major concern as many parental and social factors may be involved in the causation. The authors describe the penetrating cranial injuries in pediatric patient subgroups at risk and presenting to the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, by assessment of the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) score and review of the common neurological manifestations including cranial nerve abnormalities.


The authors performed a retrospective chart review of children who presented with penetrating TBIs between 1985 and 2007 at a university teaching hospital. Descriptive statistical analysis with univariate and multivariate logistic regression was used to assess the variables.


Out of 223 children aged 16 years and younger with penetrating TBIs seen during the study period, stab wounds were causal in 127 (57%) of the patients, while gunshot injuries were causal in 96 (43%). Eighty-four percent of the patients were male. Apart from abnormal GCS scores, other neurological abnormalities were noted in 109 (48.9%) of the patients, the most common being cranial nerve deficits (22.4%) and hemiparesis. There was a strong correlation between left-sided stab wounds and development of seizures. The mean age of patients with neurological abnormalities was 11.72 years whereas that of patients with no neurological abnormalities was 8.96 years.


Penetrating head injuries in children are not as uncommon as previously thought. There was no correlation between the age group of the patients and the mechanism of injury, which implies that stab or gunshot injuries could occur in any of our pediatric population with the same frequency. While gunshot injuries accounted for 56% of the patient population, stab injuries still accounted for 44%.

Following penetrating head injuries, neurological abnormalities tend to occur in the older subgroup of the pediatric patients. The most common neurological abnormalities were hemiparesis followed by cranial nerve deficits. Facial nerve deficits were the most commonly seen cranial nerve abnormality. Immediate convulsions were a significant feature in patients with stab injuries to the head compared to those with gunshot injuries.