Cristiano Ronaldo’s Haircut—When A Symbol Can Spark a Discussion on Brain Surgery

Soccer FieldWhen Cristiano Ronaldo appeared in the USA v. Portugal game with his conversation-sparking “Z” shape cut into the hair on the side of his head, there was speculation it was to honor a young boy who underwent brain surgery.

The story, which originally appeared in USA Today’s ‘For the Win’ website, claimed that the world’s top player was asked to donate cleats for a charity auction benefitting 10-month-old Erik Ortiz Cruz, who underwent surgery in March for cortical dysplasia. But rather than send the cleats, Ronaldo offered to pay the full $83,000 cost of the boy’s brain surgery.

While Ronaldo “lovers” pointed to the player’s history of donating to charitable causes such as those of children, his “haters” enjoyed claiming that the article stating that his haircut paid homage to a scar incurred from brain tumor removal was a bogus story.

No one has bothered to explain: cortical dysplasia, while not a brain tumor, can still require surgery. Cortical dysplasia is related to epilepsy, and can cause numerous seizures. The condition is familiar to Lawrence Daniels III, MD, neurosurgeon at Advanced Neurosurgery Associates in New Jersey and New York. ANA is involved in numerous pediatric and adult epilepsy surgeries. In fact, the surgeons at ANA participate and in some cases direct programs at Level 4 epilepsy centers, the highest possible designation made by the National Association of Epilepsy Centers (NAEC).

Dr. Daniels explained it in basic terms: “Cortical dysplasia is abnormal cells in the brain, and epilepsy can be a result. In general, epilepsy is when cells in the cortex fire signals when they’re not supposed to. This can cause those cells to recruit other cells to fire, and the result is a seizure. The only reason to undergo surgery is that the boy’s seizures were resistant to medication. He had probably been seizing for a long time.”

The question remains as to the haircut. According to Dr. Daniels, “No surgeon would make a scar that looks like that. You could have surgery that results in a linear incision in either direction, but not a Z shape. A scar would look like lines (such as in the haircut), but just not in that pattern. But that’s irrelevant. The chances are the child will have a scar, so then to shave a line in your head could be a sign of solidarity. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.” Concludes Daniels, also an avid sports fan, “I have no clue why Cristiano Ronaldo did it, but it would be a nice gesture, and it wouldn’t be too far-fetched.”

Maybe there is something to be learned here. The message was clear from at least one Florida fan, who tweeted a picture of his own brain tumor surgery scar and said it would be great if Ronaldo’s haircut, and this story, raises awareness.