Thriving on Half a Brain

ByABC News
May 11, 2006, 5:57 PM

May 12, 2006 — -- The girl with half a brain. That's how people have always described Brandi Binder. She doesn't really mind, because it's the truth.

She's 22, and she knows she's lucky to be alive. When she was 4, she somehow contracted a rare and extreme form of epilepsy that, by all accounts, should have killed her.

Her medical condition could have been something out of a Hollywood script. And, in fact, it became one in an episode of "Grey's Anatomy."

Like Brandi, the fictional little girl in "Grey's Anatomy" has a condition called Rasmussen's encephalitis. Essentially, half of the brain is healthy and functions normally. The other half is dead or dying.

Brandi and her family watched the "Grey's Anatomy" episode depicting the rare condition.

"Seeing that family get that diagnosis just reminded me of when we stood before our neurologist, and we got that diagnosis," said Binder's mom, Cindy Binder.

Cindy and her husband, Steven Binder, were devastated when they heard the news, and they said watching the fictional account of their daughter's condition brought back all of the initial feelings.

"It's just as fresh watching that as the day it happened. It doesn't matter that it's been 16, 18 years since that happened to us. To see it portrayed like that was very emotional," Cindy said.

"20/20" first reported on Brandi Binder and her family in 1997. When she was born, the family thought it had a normal, healthy baby. Then came the eye twitching, teeth grinding, drooling and powerful seizures. Binder was having up to 200 seizures a day.

They went to doctors around the country. Finally, one doctor at UCLA got it right and diagnosed her with Rasmussen's encephalitis. It usually affects just one side of the brain -- in this case, Binder's right side.

With the diagnosis came an agonizing decision for her parents. Treatment for the condition was the removal of half of the brain. If they didn't operate, Binder would die, doctors said. Operate, and she would be paralyzed along her left side, which the right brain controls.