Bella entered the world seemingly healthy. But on day two, her eyes were twitching slightly. An MRI revealed hemimegaloencephaly, a rare condition in which one half of the brain does not form correctly, causing severe seizures. Bella sometimes had dozens of seizures in an hour. A week later, after care at three hospitals and anxious decision-making, baby Bella and her birth father flew by medical transport to Children’s National.
Dr. Taeun Chang, Director of our Neonatal Neurocritical Care Program, assembled a world-class team of specialized pediatricians, including Dr. Monica Pearl, to perform an innovative, non-surgical procedure to stop Bella’s seizures. These doctors pioneered treatment to carefully trigger controlled strokes in the unhealthy half of the brain, rather than traditional approach of surgical removal. This intricate process, which may take place in several sessions over a couple of weeks, involves the science of interventional neuroradiology and neonatal neurocritical care. Dr. Chang explains, “it’s no different from an adult patient getting a heart stent, which is delivered through the bloodstream-except we went up the bloodstream to reach the brain.”
The team neutralized approximately 98 percent of Bella’s left brain before she was a month old. Soon after, her adoptive parents, Ambre and Mark Hauschildt, drove from Iowa to meet their daughter for the first time at Children’s National. Bella was 7 weeks old and barely moved.
“She was very sedated,” recalls Ambre. “She didn’t cry. She didn’t have any emotion and, because of the early brain damage, it wasn’t clear if she would ever show emotion. She was a very frail baby with a big question mark over her future. We knew she was ours, and we knew things were going to be OK, but we really didn’t know what we were getting into.”
Bella received eight medications to control her seizures, and, within a couple weeks, weaned to four. Slowly, but surely, she started to perk up. With care and time, Bella began to move and talk and experience the world like any other young child.
Recently, her grandparents updated us about her extraordinary milestone. “Today marks the third anniversary of the day you stopped Bella’s seizures. We are happy to report that she has remained seizure-free,” they said. “We thank you for this incredible accomplishment. Words cannot adequately convey our deep gratitude. Bella continues to grow and learn, amazing all with her progress. She started preschool last week and is loving it.”
From an uncertain start, Bella is thriving with a bright future.