Amber On Road To Recovery

A few days after surgery to remove the half of her brain that caused painful seizures, 15-year-old Amber Ramirez is doing better than expected, her doctor says.

"Amber is really doing very well...We're very pleased," Dr. John Freeman of Baltimore's Johns Hopkins Medical Center told CBS News on Friday.

The Nebraska teen has Rasmussen's syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that was eating away the left side of her brain, reports CBS News Correspondent Jacqueline Adams.

Tired of the frequent seizures and fearful of the long-term debilitating effects of the disease, Amber opted for radical surgery to remove the left hemisphere of her brain - the side that controls speech and fine motor movements.

"Nobody would choose this kind of radical surgery unless it was better than the alternatives," Dr. Freeman said.

Without surgery, Amber's seizures would have continued. She would have developed paralysis, lost her mental capacities, and eventually, her ability to speak.

Lobe by lobe, Doctors removed the left side of Amber's brain Tuesday; eventually, spinal fluid will fill the area. The all-day operation, called a hemispherectomy, will stop the seizures, but brings on a paralysis of the right arm and leg, and may steal her ability to speak or read.

Amber's age is also working against her, since the surgery is most successful on younger children. But the long-term effect of the surgery depends on how the remaining half of her brain reacts.

"All of these children have a paralysis on the right side," Dr. Freeman explains. "They walk, they run, they skip, but they have a limp. They're not running quite normally."

In addition, children who get hemisperectomies don't have good use of their right hand, don't see off to the right side.

Dr. Freeman says Amber has a "long and intensive rehab" ahead. She will have to learn to walk again, which would take about two weeks, he says, and she'll have to learn to use her left hand to do everything. Then, there's speech.

"The speech is like teaching a baby to speak again," he says. "You show her pictures, you tell her names. She'll have to practice those. With our last older patient who had this, it took almost three months before they could carry on a reasonable conversation."

CBS News Correspondent Eric Engberg reports that according to Amber's mother, the teen has always had a "buddy system" at school and away from home so that someone always was nearby in case she went into a seizure.

If her recovery from the operation goes well, she may be able to participate in clubs and talk on the telephone again, as she loves to do, and gain the independence she has long sought.
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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