Baby improving 1 year after brain surgery that removed half her brain

Baby Zahra with family. (WTHR Photo/Karen Campbell)
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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) – It's been one year since Zahra Chuahdary had half of her brain removed by doctors at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.

"I can see she's improving day by day," said Waheed Chuahdary, as his 18-month-old daughter sat quietly in her stroller. ​​

Zahra suffered from debilitating seizures shortly after birth. ​​

"Since she was born she was quickly transferred into Riley because she wasn't breathing well," said Chuahdary. ​​

Zahra was having eight to 10 seizures in an hour sometimes. She spent lots of time in and out of emergency rooms.​​

"She turned blue. She was choking. Her breathing was not normal," said Chuahdary. ​​

Medications didn't help. Doctors at Riley Hospital said the only way to stop her seizures was to remove half her brain. ​​

"The biggest thing was her being so small. This is a high risk procedure. We really had to wait for her to grow to be able to safely have that procedure done," said Dr. Kelly Kremer, pediatric neurologist at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.​​

Doctors performed a rare neurosurgical procedure called "hemispherectomy."​

It involves removing half of the brain and was last done in Indiana 15 years ago. It only happens nationwide about 50 times each year.​​

Dr. Jeffrey Raskin, pediatric neurosurgeon at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, says there is misinformation regarding this type of surgery, which leads many people away from an epilepsy program.​​

"The misinformation is that neurological surgery is very dangerous and you only do it as a last result, and I think that's absolutely untrue," Raskin said. ​​"I think that neurological surgery, especially more modern neurological surgeries are minimally invasive that makes these sorts of approaches unnecessary."

Raskin said in a lot of cases, patients can leave the hospital the day after surgery experiencing fewer seizures or become seizure-free. ​​

Kremer wants people to know there are options.​​

"We see patients everyday that have had terrible seizures for many years and no one's told them that there are other options," Kremer said. "That's what makes me so passionate. I want to give them the best chance to stop having seizures and improve their quality of life."

Zahra's quality of life is improving.​​

Raskin removed her right cerebral hemisphere, stopping the seizures immediately. Without surgery, Zahra's seizures wouldn't let her body grow and develop.​​​

"She's developing a lot of new skills that she didn't have the last time I saw her," said Raskin.​​ "For example, her left hand opens. She can move her left arm and her left leg has normal reflexes and is moving at about normal compared to the right leg. So from a 'will she ever move both sides?' the answer is definitely yes. I mean she's moving her arms and leg well."

Chuahdary says he couldn't be happier about her progress.​​

"She's recognizing our faces. She responds to our voices and she smiles whenever she interacts with her siblings, so we were very happy. It was a miracle for us. We thought she would never be able to have a quality life," he said. ​​

Chuahdary also says he couldn't be more grateful to doctors who saved his daughter's life.​​

"They happen to be an angel for us in terms of... to cure her. We are very glad. We are very thankful to all of them," said Chuahdary.​