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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.

    • MNIN2010

      What a profound statement. Let’s see if that makes any sense.

      You say “GWB” became president because he has half a brain. Implying one of two things. (1) nobody with their full wits about them would want to be president, or (2) he was elected because he has half a brain.

      If the first, that must go for all presidents including Clinton and Obama. And since you’ve never been president yet sit in judgement of those who were/are, then in your humble opinion, you must be smarter than all 44 Americans that have been president (your too smart to run for that office… capice?) and probably all the VP’s too (since they are simply waiting in the que to be president). Now I hate to burst your bubble, but i think you might need to reconsider your position. Given that Mr. Clinton has made $45 million just giving speeches since leaving office, and you make what… minimum wage… I’m not sure about your mental prowess comparisons.

      If the second, you’re suggesting that 62 million Americans voted (yes, presidents are ELECTED… they don’t just walk into that job ’cause they want to) for GWB BECAUSE he only had half a brain. So you’re implying a further 2 possibilities. Either the American people took pity on a poor half wit who needed a job and hired him to the most powerful job in the world… or… the American people are all half wits and saw “one of their own” in GWB so they elected him. In either case those 62 million Americans must all be stupider than you to allow such a farce. Meaning now your smarter than all the presidents, VP’s and at least half the adults in our great country.

      Yet… given that what I really think you meant when you wrote “duh.. GWB has half a brain, that’s how he got to be president”… was… “GWB has half a brain, evident by his presidential policies”.. .and given that you didn’t support that claim in any way whatsoever, and given that you read a story about radical treatments to prevent terrible diseases of children and think… “duh… maybe I can crack a joke about it.. duh.. I hate GWB… duh.. hey, what if I put the two together” and write something that doesn’t mean what you want it to, I might be going out on a limb here but I’m not impressed with your intellect.

      GWB has been out of office for 6 years. Time to move on. Go to college (both GWB and BHO went to Harvard… if you dare to compete). Get a job and start paying your taxes to support our deficit and debt (like the rest of us). And for Heaven’s sake, think next time before you yap about something you know nothing about.

      • KawiMan

        He has a peanut sized brain. You’ve already greatly exceeded his brain capacity.

      • Jackie Joiner

        mnin…relax.please. Getting all worked up like this is not healthy. Especially to random comments people make online.

    • Luz Benedict

      So true. And this was just the good part of the genes he inherited. Just think the brother wants to run now. Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest – the Bush moto. And the citizens of this country who voted for him are worse!

    • Bob

      ? No sence ¿

  • 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.

    • pat102

      I hear when done at a young age the temporal lobe will take over the duties of the oppossite temporal lobe the one that was removed/

  • 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).

    • doyin

      Thanks for sharing first hand experience.

  • 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.

    • Steven

      Did they try turning it off and then back on again? That usually works with most things..

  • 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.

    • adam

      Remove the part that allows you to spell properly or be part of a conversation without making it about your messed-up political opinions…and you have a Republican.

      • condor

        Democrats suck monkey nuts

  • 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! .

  • bmoredawg

    Ck out Dr Ben carson. He was doing this back in the 80′S

    • Cat lady

      Try being an adult with epilepsy – I think the doctors are doing great things for these children. Keep the political opinions to yourself!

  • courtney28909

    I think its sad that they will take out half of a child’s brain and not have a problem with it, but will not try a natural plant first. I feel like removing half of the brain should be the absolute last treatment. How many people had frontal lobotomys before it was found out it was not a useful surgery?

  • Katie

    People should let the neurologists & neurosurgeons do their job, I am 33 & had a right temporal lobectomy when I was 20, I went from several grand mals a day to 1 petite mal a month around my period now. & all it took was 12 hrs of surgery & them removing a piece if my brain the size of a man’s thumb, it can all be worth it, they went to years of school for this & don’t want us to have this anymore than we do, I’m grateful

  • rudy

    Is this being done after trying pot?

  • rudy

    Would pot help?

  • Elizabeth Henderson

    My daughter had this surgery in 2001 at 9 months old after suffering 20-30 seizures an hour. She had infantile spasms and her prognosis prior to surgery was an ultimate vegatative state. She lost her sight and hearing due to the seizures. Hours after surgery she regained sight and now 13 years later she is just like any other teen who knows it all! She did lose the functional use of her left arm and had some mild learning deficits….

    • Elizabeth Henderson

      Please refrain from insulting comments as these children are amazingly resilient and most cases result in miraculous results that enable these kids to have a life and allow their parents and family to meet the human being behind the seizures.