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Brain & Spine Health | Children’s Health | Cleveland Clinic News Wire | Living With Chronic Conditions
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Surgery Removing Half of Brain Stops Seizures

Study: Epilepsy surgery stops seizures and helps function

It’s a jarring image — a young child undergoing a surgery that removes half of his brain.

Yet it’s real. The epilepsy surgery is called a hemispherectomy, and it removes half of the brain to reduce epileptic seizures.

Now a Cleveland Clinic study finds that this surgery has helped many children to not only enjoy freedom from seizures, but to walk, talk and see better, too.

Surgery boosts function in most kids

Ajay Gupta, MD, who treats pediatric epilepsy cases at Cleveland Clinic, led the study.

“We found that 80 percent of children learn to walk after surgery,” says Dr. Gupta. “Seventy-five or 80 percent of children have no vision deficit. Seventy percent of children learn to speak at or close to their age.”

Dramatic findings from the study

From 1997 to 2009, Dr. Gupta and his team of researchers followed 186 children whose average age was 6 years old. All children had half of their brains removed through hemispherectomy.

Before the surgery, about 75 percent had daily seizures despite taking multiple anti-epileptic medications. Only a small fraction of the 3 million Americans with epilepsy are eligible for hemispherectomy — it’s typically used only when anti-seizure medications fail.

After surgery, the results were dramatic:

  • More than half the children were seizure-free
  • Another 15 percent saw their seizures reduced by 90 percent
  • 83 percent walked independently
  • 70 percent had better language skills
  • Nearly 60 percent were in mainstream schools (with some assistance)

Reading a challenge after surgery

“Surgery not only makes them seizure-free,” says Dr. Gupta, “but having seizure-freedom helps them learn more, do more and gain a higher academic, social as well as occupational potential.”

Over the long term, learning to read seems the most difficult and challenging task for the children, says Dr. Gupta. He says post-op efforts may be geared toward reading and learning.

Help in making a tough decision about surgery

These findings may help parents in making a very difficult decision about their children undergoing this surgery.

“Epilepsy surgery is a very important treatment for selected children who don’t respond to medical therapy,” says Dr. Gupta. “What we’ve shown is that even though hemispherectomy sounds very radical, the benefits far outweigh the risks.”

More information

Download a Free Epilepsy Treatment Guide

Tags: brain health, epilepsy, hemispherectomy, study
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  • baconator3

    Generations in the future will look back and laugh at us for the surgeries that are going on. But at this time it’s the best we have. Glad it helps people

  • If I only had a brain

    Hard to imagine better functionality with less brain, much less 50%. Yes baconator3, future people will laugh, much as we do at blood letting leches and frontal lobotomy. Oh wait…

  • Bill

    Having half of his brain removed was what allowed W. Bush to become president…

    • Al

      Yes and Barry Obama is so much smarter… Not. You’d think he could afford to kick his Mother-in-law out of the people’s house by now…. Oh wait he’s a king, I forgot. Geez I’m such a racist now

      • ChadHorn

        More of a jackass than a racist, but calling him “Barry” kinda allows the racist flag to fly.

        Actually, Obama is a lot more educated than George W. Bush.

  • sam

    Gee the human body has so many ailments so much can go wrong with our bodies.

    • Bob Pell

      Well it is a bit more complicated than a can opener, so that would explain it.

  • Itsreal123

    Yes, this actually works as crazy as it sounds. I know someone who has had this surgery done, and it worked. They are able to do things they never thought they would be able to again.

  • PeriSoft

    You’d be the master of self-deprecating humor after that: “Anybody with half a brain can restore the Windows registry. I’m proof!”

  • Bushgirlsgonewild

    And then they vote republican.

  • jfnovae

    Did they try marijuana first? Dr guptas cnn docu weed is amazing. 1 kids seizures went from 300 a day to a few a week if that. Absolutely amazing. So if they arnt trying pot first then its criminal to remove half a brain.

  • Josh

    I had a significant area of the speech portion of my brain removed when I was 13 (due to epilepsy). My seizures went from daily to close to non existent and the only side effect to my speech was more difficulty recovering words that I wanted to use when speaking (barely noticeable….especially to those that did not know my situation). This kind of surgery when a child is young allows the brain function to develop without the missing area and when done correctly can leave most functionality while allowing a much more controllable life through being seizure free.

    • Dinelle Watson

      I saw a similar short documentary on this surgery. Most of the time the surgery is done on kids that show strong signs of a disease called Rassmussen’s Syndrome(I hope I spelled that right).

  • John

    Seriously, half a brain? The one who came up with that is trying to make up for the fact they are missing half of theirs. Why remove half of something nobody truly understands how it works?

    • lindsay

      We understand fully how the brain works. Extra electrical charges cause the brain to have interrupted transmission of signal. Which causes seizures.

      • Izzy

        I’m sorry, what? We don’t have the first clue how the brain works. This surgery is a stab in the dark. I tried down voting you, but this thing maxes out at zero…

      • mindfloat

        Those absolute words like “fully” should be avoided.

  • lindsay

    My son has had this surgery at the age of 3 and he is perfect now. No more seizures.

  • tintruder

    Remove the entire brain and you have a demoncrat.

  • Hi john

    Morons with no understanding of neuro anatomy or neurophysiological function should remain quiet. If you ever saw a child wearing a helmet to prevent damage from 20-30 seizures a day maybe you’d take a more caring stance.

  • Dante

    When I read the title I thought it was a personalized story of life after fox news for Sarah Palin.

  • dale

    I remember a documentary about a middle aged, healthy woman who suffered a brain injury. At the time she was a successful lawyer. After the surgery she became an artist! .