ROSA Robot Assists in CHOC Patient’s Successful Epilepsy Surgery

Five-year-old Ian Higginbotham recently enjoyed his best summer yet.  He experienced his first family vacation. He learned to swim and ride a bike. He got himself ready for kindergarten.  These are milestones most kids and parents, alike, eagerly welcome.  But there was a time when Ian’s parents weren’t certain their son, who was born seemingly healthy, would enjoy such happy pastimes.

Ian began talking and walking in his sleep as a toddler.  When the episodes, including night terrors, increased in frequency and severity, his mom Lisa made an appointment with the pediatrician.  One day, Lisa knew something just wasn’t right and didn’t want to wait for the appointment to get Ian checked out.  She and her husband Derek took him to the Julia and George Argyros Emergency Department at CHOC Children’s Hospital.  To her surprise, doctors diagnosed her son with epilepsy.    Ian’s “sleepwalking” and “night terrors” were actually seizures.

The family was referred to CHOC’s comprehensive epilepsy program.  A national leader in pediatric epilepsy care, CHOC’s comprehensive epilepsy program offers cutting-edge diagnostics, innovative medical approaches and advanced surgical interventions.  CHOC was the first children’s hospital in the state to be named a Level 4 epilepsy center by the National Association of Epilepsy Centers, signifying the highest-level medical and surgical evaluation and treatment for patients with complex epilepsy.

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Ian’s neurologist Dr. Andrew Mower suspected he was experiencing complex partial seizures, which was confirmed by video EEG monitoring.  Complex partial seizures start in a small area of the temporal or frontal lobe of the brain, and quickly involve the areas of the brain affecting alertness and awareness.  The pattern of Ian’s seizures suggested they were originating from the right frontal lobe.  Dr. Mower knew Ian and his family were in for a tough journey.

“I really don’t think the general public understands the impact epilepsy has on a child and his family.  Its effects are multifaceted and extensive.  Our team’s goal is to reduce or eliminate our patients’ seizures, helping improve their quality of life,” explains Dr. Mower, who placed Ian on a series of medications.

The medications reduced Ian’s seizures, but did not control them.  Dr. Mower was concerned about the seizures affecting Ian’s development, and presented his case to the epilepsy team.   The multidisciplinary team agreed Ian was a candidate for epilepsy surgery.  For children who fail at least two medications, surgery may be considered early in treatment versus as a last resort.  Surgery can result in an improvement in seizure control, quality of life, and prevent permanent brain damage.  Ian’s surgery was going to be performed by CHOC neurosurgeon Dr. Joffre Olaya.

While the thought of surgery was frightening to Lisa and her husband, they were confident in the team and comforted to know their son was going to benefit from innovative technology, like the ROSA™ Robot. Considered one of the most advanced robotized surgical assistants, ROSA includes a computer system and a robotic arm.  The computer system offers 3D brain mapping to aid surgeons in locating the exact areas they need to reach and planning the best surgical paths.  The robotic arm is a minimally invasive surgical tool that improves accuracy and significantly reduces surgery/anesthesia time.

Dr. Olaya used ROSA to accurately place electrodes in the area of Ian’s brain suspected to be the source of his seizures.  By using the robot, Dr. Olaya avoided performing a craniotomy.

“ROSA is an amazing tool that yields many benefits for our patients, including less time under anesthesia in the operating room.  It reduces blood loss and risk of infections.  Patients tend to recover faster than they would if they had craniotomy,” says Dr. Olaya.

Lisa was amazed at the outcome. “I couldn’t believe how great Ian looked after the placements of the electrodes with ROSA.  He wasn’t in any pain, there was no swelling.  It was wonderful!”

She and her husband were also amazed at how well Ian did following his epilepsy surgery.

“We got our boy back,” says Lisa. “There were no more side effects from medication and, more importantly, no more seizures!  He started developing again and doing all the things a child his age should do.”

Ian’s care team isn’t surprised by his recovery.

“Children are resilient, and their brains are no different.  In fact, the plasticity of a young brain allows it to adapt to changes and heal more easily than an adult brain,” explains Dr. Mower.

Learning to ride a bike and swim were among the first of many milestones Ian quickly reached following surgery.  He enjoys playing with his younger brother and his friends.  And, whether inspired by his experience with ROSA or not, Ian loves robots.

CHOC Experts Provide High Level of Care for Brachial Plexus Surgery

CHOC Children’s offers the highest level of care for children requiring brachial plexus surgery.

Brachial plexus surgery is a complex procedure that repairs damage to the bundle of connected nerves in the neck region. Damage to these nerves is often caused by birth complications, contact sport collisions and automobile accidents. A severe brachial plexus injury can cause a patient to lose function and sensation in their arm, impairing their ability to perform everyday tasks.

Surgical procedures such as nerve grafts and transfers can restore this function and sensation and help the patient regain their lost quality of life.

“While many patients will regain movement with therapy alone, a small percentage will require nerve surgery,” says Dr. Joffre Olaya, pediatric neurosurgeon at CHOC. “Patients may even need a series of surgeries,” he adds. “The first surgery may be focused on the nerves, where the second would be focused on the transfer of muscle or movement of bones.”

The experienced multidisciplinary team at CHOC is fully equipped to handle all aspects of the repair and guide the patient and their family through every stage of treatment and healing. The surgery is performed in the Tidwell Procedure Center at CHOC, which features seven operating rooms and advanced technology and information systems.

“We like to evaluate patients as early as possible,” says Dr. Amber Leis, a CHOC and UC Irvine plastic surgeon. “We want to be part of the child’s journey and provide long-term care to ensure the best possible outcome.”

Whether or not these patients end up requiring surgery, they all benefit from therapy, explains Dr. Leis. CHOC is proud to offer the latest, research-based physical therapy in one of the most comprehensive rehabilitation centers in the area. Further, depending on their age, diagnosis and treatment plan, some brachial plexus patients may benefit from aquatic physical therapy, which takes place in the center’s pool.

Dr. Olaya and Dr. Leis are committed to building a robust, one-of-a-kind brachial plexus program for children in the region and beyond.

They offer community physicians the following guidelines on when to refer:

  • As early as possible, after a brachial plexus birth palsy with impaired arm movement.
  • After a sports or motor vehicle accident with impaired arm movement or sensation.

Learn more about surgical services at CHOC.

Complicated Case: Hemispherectomy Follows Frontal Lobe Hemorrhage

Heidi Sexton knew her young epileptic daughter, Kara, needed more help. Anti-seizure medications didn’t help, hospital visits were frequent, and seizures and tantrums continued.

“It was time,” Heidi recalled. “I went in to the next doctor’s appointment with my questions: What else can we try? This isn’t working.”

Dr. Mary Zupanc, director of CHOC Children’s comprehensive epilepsy program, offered her recommendation: Kara needs brain surgery.

A little girl’s long road

Though no doubt a staggering consideration, brain surgery would be the next landmark on a long medical history that belied Kara’s short three years of life.

At just 13 months old, she underwent emergency brain surgery after her frontal lobe hemorrhaged, caused by a previously undiscovered vascular malformation. The hemorrhage in Kara’s brain led to right-side hemiplegia, leaving her no use of her right hand and limited the use her right leg.

Kara underwent physical therapy and began walking at age 2. Life was relatively normal for the Sexton family until just after Kara’s third birthday, when she began acting strangely.

Kara’s body would stiffen, she’d fall down and stare off into space, Heidi recalled. It wasn’t until a visit to the Julia and George Argyros Emergency Department at CHOC Children’s Hospital that the Sextons would learn Kara was having seizures.

At the CHOC Children’s Neuroscience Institute, Kara underwent an electroencephalogram, or EEG, a test that monitors for electrical activity in the brain. Next, she spent six days undergoing long-term video EEG monitoring. From there, Dr. Zupanc, also CHOC’s neurology division chair, made an official diagnosis of epilepsy and prescribed an anti-epileptic medication.

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Exploring other options

Nonetheless, Kara’s seizures continued. Kara’s three older siblings were acutely aware of their sister’s disorder, daily counting Kara’s seizures and agonizing over each hospital visit. The family began to placate Kara in hopes of staving off outbursts and tantrums, Heidi said.

“Kara had between two and four seizures a day,” she said. “It really messed with her behaviorally. She’s a lovely kid, but she suffered serious temper tantrums. It was physically and emotionally exhausting.”

A second six-day monitoring session led Dr. Zupanc to change Kara’s medication and, as a precaution, begin evaluating her as a candidate for epilepsy brain surgery.

Further tests and scans revealed that the left hemisphere of Kara’s brain was significantly injured and atrophied – likely related to her earlier hemorrhage. In addition, Kara’s new anti-epileptic medication wasn’t working.

Dr. Zupanc concluded that the next step was a hemispherectomy, a surgical procedure in which one side of the brain is removed or disconnected.

“On scans, Kara’s hemisphere was completely white,” Heidi said. “The only thing her left hemisphere was doing was causing seizures. There was no question.”

A change of course

Nearly 11 months after the seizures first surfaced, Kara underwent surgery at CHOC to remove a portion of her brain’s left side, and disconnect the remaining portion from the right hemisphere. Performed by neurosurgeon Dr. Joffre Olaya, the procedure lasted six hours.

After 16 days recovering in the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit, Kara went home just after her fourth birthday.

Much to her parents’ and siblings’ relief, Kara hasn’t had a seizure since her surgery eight months ago. Kara still relies on an anti-epileptic medication, but she may be able to stop taking it completely or use a lower dose of medication soon if her progress continues.

Though considering a second brain surgery was daunting for the Sextons, Heidi and her husband knew the procedure was the right choice to help their daughter.

“I looked at it in a sense of quality of life for Kara,” Heidi said. “Hopefully now she’ll be able to drive one day. Continued seizures would have impaired her cognitively forever, and I didn’t want that.”

Though she still requires extensive care, Kara is doing well physically and emotionally and is looking forward to preschool.

Kara isn’t fully aware of her journey in the last year, but she understands the meaning of the scar on her head just above her ear.

“She knows now that she doesn’t have seizures and Dr. Olaya and Dr. Zupanc fixed her,” Heidi said.