A year ago, Maranda Francisco hardly noticed Christmas. She was too sick to care. This year, four months after surgeons at Johns Hopkins Children's Center removed half her brain, she was a typical can't-wait 4-year-old, running around, jabbering away, getting into trouble, cutting out cookies, playing in the snow.

Before her radical surgery, Maranda was nearly incapacitated by frequent seizures caused by a rare disease called Rasmussen's encephalitis, a slow progressive inflammation of the brain. Drug treatment didn't work.

In a 10-hour operation, doctors removed the left hemisphere of Maranda's brain. She hasn't had a seizure since, and she has regained much of the physical and intellectual capacity that she had lost in the previous year.

She attends preschool near her home in Denver, and also has physical, occupational and speech therapy at home. She no longer needs a brace to steady her right arm, and a new, less cumbersome brace on her leg has a hinge that allows her to walk up and down stairs.

"She walks almost perfectly," said her mother, Terry Francisco.

Maranda tests at nearly the 4-year-old level in speech, social skills and mentality, according to Terry Francisco.

The reason Maranda manages so well without the left side of her brain, her doctors say, is that the right side of her brain already had taken over many of the functions of its deteriorating left half.

Doctors are weaning Maranda off the phenobarbitol she was getting as a precaution against further seizures, her mother said, and expect to discontinue the drug within a couple of months.