Outcomes Of Hemispherectomies

Hemispherectomy is a radical operation that involves removing literally half the brain. It's used in extreme cases, for children who suffer uncontrollable brain seizures that don't respond to normal treatments.

Over the past 30 years, 58 such operations were performed on children at Johns Hopkins. At a recent reunion of patients and families, they traded stories with doctors and each other about what their lives are like.

Hopkins neurology professor Eileen Vining, M.D., says it's clear that removing half of their brains gave them the best chance for a normal life.

"It leaves them permanently hemiplegic (paralyzed on all or part of one side of their body)," says Dr. Vining. "The children look as though they've had a stroke. But all of them can walk, most of them run, some of them even run races. The little girls do ballet. They're able to function well from a language point of view even when we remove the left hemisphere."

Dr. Vining says the operation presents a remarkable mystery: even with that much brain tissue removed, things like language, memories, and emotions - our very personalities - seem to remain intact.

The Johns Hopkins University.