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Thriving after brain surgery

Nicole Abbott was 8 months old when doctors at Women and Children's Hospital removed a section of her brain to relieve frequent catastrophic seizures.

That was in December.

Today, Nicole, who recently celebrated her first birthday, is bright and cheerful and making strides that leave her family amazed.

"She went from not doing anything, to now we are crawling," said her mother, Tracy.

Tracy and Timothy Abbott and their son, Timothy Jr., 2, were delighted when Nicole was born. She seemed to be on track in her early development, although when she was 2 months old, her parents noticed her head was always tilting left, and her eye was always looking to the left.

They also noticed that she didn't show emotion, didn't cry or laugh. They can see the difference now in the early photographs they took of her.

"It's hard to look back at those pictures," Abbott said. "Now, looking into her eyes, I see life there."

In September, their pediatrician sent them to the Regional Epilepsy Monitoring Unit at Women and Children's Hospital for tests. Dr. Arie Weinstock, director of pediatric epilepsy, determined Nicole was suffering from frequent catastrophic epilepsy seizures.

"In the beginning when she was a young baby, the spells were difficult to pick up," Weinstock said. "The seizures themselves, they are short, small spasmlike spells."

But the seizures interfered with Nicole's development, and medications did not help her. It was an exhausting time for the whole family, but the Abbotts said they got through it because of the support from the doctors and staff at Children's.

"They kept us informed, and they went through a lot of effort to get a lot of experts involved," Abbott said.

It was decided an operation was the best option, and on Dec. 18, Dr. Curtis Rozzelle, surgical director of the Pediatric Epilepsy Program, led the team that performed 9z hours of surgery.

Nicole suffered from cortical dysplasia, where neurons in her brain developed differently than they should have. A lesion was removed from her brain, and an electroencephalogram was performed on her brain during the surgery, indicating further tissue needed to be removed.

"That allowed us to further tailor the surgery for her," Weinstock said. "We had to remove enough tissue to stop the seizures."

Before the surgery, Nicole was 50 percent to 75 percent developmentally delayed, said her mother. Now, with weekly physical and occupational therapy, she is about 36 percent delayed. While the Abbotts are hoping for a full recovery with no after-effects, they don't know if her vision has been affected or if she will have further developmental difficulties.

"Until she gets older and tells us, we won't know," Mrs. Abbott said. "It's a long road ahead of us because we don't know what's in store."

"We are really thrilled for her," Weinstock said. "We believe her outcome will allow her to get maximum development."

It was a long ordeal for the Abbotts, starting with the uneasy feeling when they first realized something was wrong months ago.

"That never really decreased until 10 days after surgery when she laughed for the first time," her father said.

"Most parents are happy if they're walking by their first birthday. We're happy she's crawling," Tracy Abbott said.


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