New hope for most common neurological disorder among children

Reporter: Amy Oshier Writer: Carolina Guzman
Published: Updated:

More than three million people are living with epilepsy in the U.S. It’s one of the most common neurological disorders among children.

It can develop at any time, but most often, it happens during childhood, causing uncontrollable and unpredictable seizures.

Ela Allam was born a fighter.

“We were told Ela’s not gonna walk. She’s not gonna talk,” said Alex Allam, Ela’s father.

She had suffered a stroke before she was born, but with therapy, Ela defied the odds.

“We saw Ela starting to stand up. I started walking with her in the mall,” said Allam.

But then, a few years later, seizures started.

“To see your kid, 7, 8 years old, just collapsing on the floor, and you don’t know if she’s gonna wake up or not,” said Allam.

The medication stopped working. Ela was having three to five seizures a day, and she was falling behind in school. Brain surgery was a final resort.

“We had no other choice,” said Allam.

Pediatric neurologist Muhammad Zafar said Duke Health believed Ela’s brain had shifted important functions away from the damaged area to other parts of the brain.

“So her function that was supposed to be carried on by the right hemisphere moved to the left hemisphere because the injury happened very early in life,” said Zafar.

A team at Duke Health performed a hemispherectomy to disconnect the damaged side of her brain from the healthy side.

“We are removing one part of the brain, but for her, fortunately, that’s what saved her life,” said Zafar.

Soon after, Ela started reading, and she’s doing well in school, and even learned to swim.

“He took the seizures away,” said Ela.

Ela hasn’t had a single seizure.

“She’s opening up. It’s like her brain was locked with a key, and somebody just opened it,” said Allam.

Her doctor also anticipates that she’ll eventually be able to stop taking all seizure medications.

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