Radical Treatment Brings a Newfound Joy

Spencer, with mother Lisa Hill, has surpassed expectations.
Spencer, with mother Lisa Hill, has surpassed expectations. (By Alice Reid -- The Washington Post)
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By Alice Reid
Monday, January 14, 2008

Lisa Hill says she is the mother of a miracle child.

Three years ago, her son Spencer, then 9, was into his 16th month of severe epilepsy, suffering dozens of seizures a day that doctors at Children's Hospital had been unable to halt with medication or brain surgery. Finally, he descended into a kind of epileptic inferno. He was in a constant state of seizure, the left side of his brain an electrical firestorm.

The Northern Virginia youngster was near death when his doctors took a radical step. On Jan. 16, 2005, they removed the entire left hemisphere of Spencer's brain -- the source of the seizures, but also, in most of us, the source of language and the ability to move the right side of the body.

The prognosis: Spencer would live but probably would never again speak or walk.

Several days after the operation, as his family hovered around him in the intensive-care unit at Children's, someone asked, "Spencer, where does it hurt?"

That was when the miracles began. Spencer spoke. "Everywhere," he said.

"The whole ICU turned around and stared," Hill said.

Months of therapy followed, and today, at 12, Spencer not only speaks, he makes jokes. He runs well enough to play tag football with his pals. He recently returned from Colorado, where he learned to snowboard. "It was fun," he said. "Even the wipeouts were fun."

He is mainstreamed in all his sixth-grade classes except for those that depend heavily on reading and writing. Last week, he earned bragging rights: He got an A on a math quiz.

Best of all, he has been seizure-free, and he takes no medication.

"Had he been somewhere else other than Children's," Hill said, "I don't think we would have had the same outcome."

Hill recounts a host of things Spencer can do that no one ever thought he would. His peripheral vision, once narrowly constrained, has broadened to a more normal range. His right arm hangs immobile inside the orange Denver Broncos jersey he loves to wear, but he can move his right shoulder up and down.

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