Hemispherectomy Can Treat Rasmussen’s Encephalitis in Children

When it comes to staying active, 8-year-old R.J. Walters has it covered. His favorite sport right now is basketball. But that hasn’t stopped R.J. from getting his yellow belt in taekwondo or participating in the Special Olympics. When R.J. was first diagnosed with Rasmussen’s encephalitis, his parents never knew that he’d reach this point. Now he is excelling past anything they could have guessed.

According to reporting from News 19, when R.J. was very young, he began having episodes where he would just stare off blankly. He still responded to parents Randall and Jamilah when they spoke to him, but they felt like something was off. They later found out that these “episodes” were actually focal seizures. At four years old, R.J. had a generalized seizure. 

Jamilah and Randall rushed him to the doctors for testing. Unfortunately, this revealed that some of the right side of his brain had atrophied, or wasted away. Further testing solidified the Rasmussen’s encephalitis diagnosis. 

R.J.’s Story: Undergoing a Hemispherectomy 

But what could be done? A neurosurgeon from Lurie Children’s Hospital suggested that R.J. undergo a hemispherectomy. UCLA Health describes a hemispherectomy as: 

a radical surgical procedure where the diseased half of the brain is completely removed, partially removed and fully disconnected, or just disconnected from the normal hemisphere.

They further explain that a hemispherectomy is one of the most successful procedures in stopping or preventing seizures in certain patients. A hemispherectomy is most effective for children with seizure disorders because their brain is still developing. As a result, the normal hemisphere can operate at a higher function to compensate. 

It has been just under 3 years since R.J. had his hemispherectomy done. If you couldn’t tell by his athletic achievements, he has been doing fantastically! The left side of his body is somewhat weaker than the right side, but his parents encourage him. They know that even though it might take him slightly longer, or even though he may do something in a different way, he can accomplish anything he sets his mind to.

And the best part? R.J. hasn’t had a seizure since. 

What is Rasmussen’s Encephalitis? 

Rasmussen’s encephalitis, sometimes referred to as Rasmussen syndrome, is a rare, chronic, and progressive condition that causes inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) affecting one side of the brain. The exact cause of this condition is unknown. Doctors hypothesize that it may result from the body’s reaction to an infection or that it could be characterized as an autoimmune disease. Regardless, encephalitis leads to seizures and brain damage. Rasmussen’s encephalitis predominantly affects children between ages two and ten. Symptoms and characteristics may include:

  • Severe seizures
  • Progressive weakness on one side of the body
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Intellectual disability
  • Loss of motor skills
  • Aphasia (loss of speech and language abilities)
  • Partial loss of sight 
  • Developmental regression

In some cases, anti-epileptic drugs can be helpful in seizure control. However, in many cases, surgical intervention is needed.

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn has an educational background in writing and marketing. She firmly believes in the power of writing in amplifying voices, and looks forward to doing so for the rare disease community.

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