There was nothing out of the ordinary about April Robertson’s pregnancy. She and her husband Scott were prepared to welcome their healthy baby boy in the summer of 2015. All of April’s tests came back normal and her pregnancy carried to term. Wesley Robertson was born on June 17, 2015.
“The seizure almost looked like a strange hiccup,” April said. “His whole body would jump every few seconds. At one point it, didn’t stop for nearly two hours. We panicked and rushed to the hospital because we thought he might have been really sick.”
Wesley’s seizures would come and go, with some lasting only 30 seconds and others lasting in excess of a minute. Scott and April took Wesley to the hospital on multiple occasions where the seizures would stop while he was medicated. The solution was only temporary. When Wesley would return home, the seizures would resume, eventually occurring 30 to 50 times a day.
“His first MRI at 5 days old showed the neurons causing the seizures to be on both sides of his brain,” April said. “We were told these could never migrate, surgery would never be an option, and that his condition would have to be managed with medication. We were spent and had almost lost hope. We had come to our own conclusion that this might be something we have to live with for the rest of Wesley’s life.”
Things changed when Wesley’s doctor asked the Robertsons if they could obtain a new MRI scan and consult with Dr. Manish Shah, UTHealth pediatric neurosurgeon affiliated with Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and the Memorial Hermann Mischer Neuroscience Institute at the Texas Medical Center (MNI). One of Dr. Shah’s specialties is operating on children with epilepsy.
Upon meeting with the Robertson family, Dr. Shah asked for the patient to be transferred to Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital to be evaluated by the team of pediatric neurologists led by Dr. Gretchen Von Allmen, and obtain a Magnetoencephalogram (MEG), to better localize the regions of Wesley’s brain that were responsible for the seizures. With the help of Dr. Von Allmen and the internationally-renowned MEG expert at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, Dr. Michael Funke, Dr. Shah discussed Wesley’s case with the whole epilepsy surgery team. Working together, Dr. Shah and his team gave April and Scott some news they weren’t expecting. The MRI and the MEG scan showed the seizures were coming from multiple locations only on the right side of Wesley’s brain and Dr. Shah felt confident surgery would make a big impact. There is a 70 to 90 percent success rate in reducing or eliminating seizures when the right surgery is chosen for the right patient.
According to Dr. Shah, for most people with epilepsy, seizures can be controlled through medication. But for about 30 percent of patients with epilepsy, medications aren’t effective or can’t be tolerated. In the past, surgery was considered to be a last resort for patients with epilepsy but new evidence suggests that surgery should be done as soon as possible if medications are proving to be ineffective. As time goes on, the seizures can cause development in the child to be delayed, which isn’t repairable after a certain point.
“We have a very specialized epilepsy group at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and MNI,” said Dr. Shah. “Our specially-designed tests, like the MEG scan, are able to localize where the seizures are coming from. The earlier the source of the seizures is found, the earlier we can operate, which leads to a much better outcome for the development of motor and cognitive functions in the child.”
Wesley first met with Dr. Shah on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015. Three days later on Oct. 2, Dr. Shah and his team performed the operation that would help secure a better quality of life for Wesley. The anesthesia and surgery took almost eight hours and didn’t come without its own set of challenges. Surgeries like this are rarely done on children as young as Wesley, who was just over 3 months old at the time of the operation.
“The reason it’s so difficult to operate on a child this young is because three-month-old babies do not have a lot of circulating blood volume,” said Dr. Shah. “He could only lose a small amount before he would become unstable under anesthesia. In that situation, we would not be able to finish the operation and have to try another day. The reason his case went smoothly was because of the experienced nurses, scrub techs, anesthesiologists and surgeons who worked seamlessly together.”
There was a chance there would be some lasting implications from the surgery on Wesley’s brain. Doctors told April and Scott that Wesley might have limited function in his left hand, and he might have some restricted vision in the left side of his left eye. However, April says that Wesley has been kicking both arms and legs equally.
Most importantly, Wesley hasn’t had a single seizure since his surgery.
“Wesley is doing phenomenally,” April says. “He has recovered faster than anyone ever expected and is completely seizure-free. He is meeting all of his milestones and getting stronger every single day. By April, he should be completely off all of his medications. We can’t express enough how thankful we are for Dr. Shah and his wonderful team. Less than one week after meeting with him, Wesley was completely healed. That is the most precious miracle I have ever experienced.”
The only sign of Wesley’s operation comes in the form of a long thin scar on the side of his head, one that is hardly recognizable unless you are looking for it. He lacks a little bit of strength that other babies might have at his age, but, according to April, that is a small price to pay for some of the long-term consequences that could have been caused by continued seizures.
“It is so difficult to see your child struggling and you think there might not be any cure,” said Scott Robertson. “We truly felt helpless. Going from feeling that low, to seeing Wesley succeed and hit his goals now is absolutely incredible. He has come so far in such a short period of time. It shows that anything is possible.”
Click here for more information on Dr. Shah and the pediatric neurosurgery team at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and the Mischer Neuroscience Institute.