Actress Anne Heche, who has died at age 53Share on Pinterest
Anne Heche died of a traumatic brain injury at the age of 53. Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic
  • Actor Anne Heche was taken off life support and died this past weekend at the age of 53.
  • Medical experts said she developed an anoxic brain injury after her car crashed into a home.
  • This type of brain injury is caused by a sudden lack of oxygen and can be the result of head trauma as well as cardiac arrest, stroke, or suffocation.

We do not fall in love with the package of the person, we fall in love with the inside of a person.

That is a quote from actor Anne Heche, who was taken off life support and died this past weekend at the age of 53.

On August 5, Heche crashed her car into a house in Southern California. She was reportedly traveling at more than 100 miles per hour. The crash caused her car and the house to catch fire. It took 59 firefighters 65 minutes to extinguish the fire and pull her from the vehicle.

Heche was born on May 25, 1969, as Anne Celeste Heche. Her early acting career included playing Vicky Hudson and Marley Love in the soap opera, “Another World.” She won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Younger Actress in 1989 and 1991. She had numerous parts in films, including “Donnie Brasco” and “Return to Paradise.”

Heche lapsed into a coma after the car accident and did not regain consciousness before being declared legally deceased. On August 14, she was taken off life support after being matched with an organ recipient.

Anoxic brain injury is any form of brain injury resulting from decreased oxygen supply for some period of time,” explains Dr. Christopher P. Kellner, an assistant professor in neurosurgery and associate director of the Neurosurgery Residency Program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

“This can occur from cardiac arrest, smoke inhalation, drowning, or other causes that would prevent blood and/or oxygen from getting to the brain,” Kellner told Healthline.

Brain cells without enough oxygen will start to die after 4 minutes, according to the Beth Israel Lahey Health Winchester Hospital.

The longer the person is without oxygen, the more severe their injury. Anoxic brain injuries often result in disability or death.

“The reason full recovery from this type of injury is so difficult is that brain cells can start to die after only a few minutes without oxygen,” said Dr. Walavan Sivakumar, a neurosurgeon and director of neurovascular surgery at Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California.

“Additionally, the different parts of the brain can be affected by decreases in oxygen in a variable pattern. Certain parts of the brain are less resilient to oxygen loss,” Sivakumar told Healthline. “The brain makes up only about 2 percent of the body weight but takes about 20 percent of the body’s blood flow. Being that dependent on oxygen and having that high of a requirement for it makes these injuries so dangerous.”

Head injury is only one cause of anoxic brain injury.

“The most common cause for anoxic brain injury is actually a cardiac arrest,” added Sivakumar. “Strokes are another common cause that we see a lot of. Less common causes include choking or suffocation, anesthesia complications, drowning, smoke inhalation like during a fire, drug overdoses, and carbon monoxide to name a few.”

During her life, Heche was a vocal advocate for organ donation.

“It has long been her choice to donate her organs and she is being kept on life support to determine if any are viable,” according to a family statement issued last week.

“Organ donation is still possible after anoxic brain injury,” Kellner said. “If the brain was injured but the other organs were not, then organ donation is still possible. In many states, a patient is considered formally dead when there is no brain activity even if the body is still maintained on a ventilator. In that case, the organs can be evaluated to see if they can be donated even after the person is declared dead because of brain death.”

Organ donation saves and improves lives.

The United Network for Organ Sharing states that the heart, kidneys, lungs, pancreas, liver, intestines, skin, tendons, bone, nerve, corneas, and heart valves can be donated.

Each person can save the lives of up to eight people by donating organs, more if tissues are also donated.

The United States has one of the highest performing organ donation and transplant systems in the world. People of all ages, races, ethnic groups, and medical histories can register as organ donors.

Specialists will determine what organs and tissues can be donated at the time of death based on the medical condition.