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Entries in Dr. Michael Handler (1)

Thursday
Feb242011

Doctors Remove Part of Cheerleader's Brain to Stop Seizures

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(DENVER) -- It was a stunt that Whitney Henry would never forget. During the summer before her junior year of high school, Henry and her cheerleading teammates were practicing a routine that involved tossing one girl, the flyer, into the air. The stunt quickly went awry when the flyer strayed in mid-flight, slamming her head into Henry's face, knocking out Henry's two front teeth.

While the dental debacle was damaging to her smile, Henry would only learn later how much of an impact this accident would have on her life, and that it would eventually lead surgeons to remove a chunk of her brain.

Henry suffered her first episode six months after the accident. She recalled that she could not speak for about two minutes and experienced intense déjà vu.

"I didn't know if I was just different or if I was having a seizure or what," said the now 20-year-old Henry.

It turned out that it was a seizure and after the first episode, the seizures became more intense and frequent. She experienced 30 to 50 per day. And as a junior in high school, Henry would often have seizures while in school.

The frustrations continued when Henry sought medical help for her mysterious condition. She went through six neurologists and 13 anticonvulsant medications without any improvement.

"It was maddening," said Henry. "I had no quality of life at all."

Between debilitating seizures, and the memory loss and paranoia that came along with the regular episodes, Henry's grades plummeted her junior year.

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.

"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 in New York City. "With one or two medications, most people [about 80 percent] can get control of their seizures."

"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 strokes have on their lives.

Henry has now been seizure free for two years and four months. She is a senior at University of Northern Colorado, and plans on getting her master's degree and Ph.D. in psychology.

"I guess that part of my brain was holding me back," said Henry. "I'm excited to have a fresh start." 

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