Doctors Remove Part of Cheerleader's Brain to Stop Seizures

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But after one and a half years of attacks, Dr. Michael Handler, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Children's Hospital in Denver, Colo., finally pinpointed the cheerleading accident as the cause of her condition and suggested surgery to treat it.

Surgery: A Seizure's Last Resort?

"This is not a step we take lightly," Handler told ABC News affiliate, ABC7 in Denver. "It's a step that's hard for some doctors to accept and some patients to accept."

The accident caused a traumatic brain injury that, instead of a concussion, caused a contusion, a big bruise on the brain that caused permanent damage. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, epilepsy and seizures affect almost 3 million Americans, and about 300,000 of those affected have difficulty controlling seizures despite medical management.

"Medications are the first line of treatment," said Dr. Brian Greenwald, medical director of Brain Injury Rehabilitation at Mount Sinai Hospital. "With one or two medications, most people [about 80 percent] can get control of their seizures."

Henry Has Brain Surgery

"This injury occurs when [the temporal lobe] slides up against the bony projections that form the base of the skull cavity," said Dr. Gregory O'Shanick, medical director emeritus of the Brain Injury Association of America. "This follows either a direct blow to the head or an acceleration-deceleration of the head that then causes the brain to shift in the skull."

After surgery became an option on the table for Henry's condition, she did not hesitate for even a moment. "My reaction was, 'Can we do it tomorrow?'" said Henry. "I was relieved and anxious to get through surgery and have a new life."

Doctors conducted four week-long studies on Henry before she went into surgery, where doctors removed a golf ball size portion of Henry's temporal lobe.

Dr. Atif Haque, a neurosurgeon at the Fort Worth Brain and Spine Institute, said that most people get brain surgery because of the interference that seizures have on their lives.

Brain Surgery and Inherent Risks

But brain surgery certainly doesn't come without risks.

"Risks depend on the area of the brain operated on," said Haque. "In the temporal lobe, risks include memory or behavioral disturbances or visual deficits. Risks anywhere in the brain include things like bleeding, infection or stroke."

While some doctors feel that surgery should be a last result for seizure patients, many do not think this should be the case.

"Although there are risks with any surgery, especially brain surgery, those risks are outweighed by the benefit of improving seizure control, and regaining control of one's life," said Dr. Shenandoah Robinson, director of pediatric epilepsy surgery at University Hospitals of Cleveland. "Sometimes the area of brain both produces seizures and controls important functions, but often the only thing that area of the brain is doing is causing seizures."

And Dr. Adam Mamelak, an attending neurosurgeon at the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute at Cedar Sinai Medical Center, agreed that surgeries should be a valid option upfront.

"In general, surgery is often viewed as a last resort, although this probably should not be the case due to its efficacy and safety," said Mamelak. "In this case, the injury seemed very localized, so surgery was a great option."

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