Freya in the Whitsunday's last year

Freya in the Whitsunday's last year

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

settling in

After a lovely holiday in Noosa, we are all settling into our post-hospital routine.  This routine revolves around a weekly timetable of daily out-patient appointments at the RCH which can involve only one or two sessions or a full day.  Freya has also been very keen to return to school and participate in as many activities as possible before the end of the school year next Friday.  The rigorous RCH timetable doesn't allow for much school time, but she has managed to spend a couple of hours at school several times over the last week and a half.  In addition to the excitement of seeing all her school friends and teachers again, it has given her mood and confidence a huge kick-start to be doing 'normal' things again.  Thank you so much to Ms Sear and  5/6S for giving her such a heroes welcome.

Freya is also receiving Occupational Therapy at home twice as week as part of a new initiative of the RCH "Hospital in the Home" Program.  The home visits are about encouraging her to use her left arm and hand as "helpers" as much as possible in a practical, everyday way.  Because her left arm and hand ares so weak, and using either takes such effort, is is very easy for children who have had hemispherectomy surgery to simply ignore their weak arm and hand and rely entirely on the stronger ones.  Without constantly thinking about, and  trying to use her weak arm and hand Freya's brain will not make the neuro-connections needed to make them functional, so it can become a cycle of weakness and neglect, something that we would really like to avoid.

This week at the hospital is a busy one:  On Thursday, Freya will receive her first botox injections (young, I know).  The botox is intended to reduce the stiffness in her left calf muscles to give her a more natural gait and also allow her left hand to relax more readily.  I'm sure I won't be the first mother that has argued for a bit of botox to administered in my direction given the all the extra wrinkles she has caused me over the last months (years).  Freya will also be having her first EEG and MRI since the surgery.  Although she appears to be completely seizure-free, the EEG should confirm that there are no sub-clinical seizures occuring in her brain (those that have no obvious or outward presentation).  All fingers crossed.

Here's Freya enjoying the Noosa beach from the safety of her beach towel.  Despite the balmy 27 degree weather she declared both the resort pools (heated) and sea too cold for swimming.  3 months in the airconditioned comfort of the RCH has made her very soft!

Friday, November 19, 2010


Today Freya was discharged from the RCH, just short of 100 days since admission.  In this period and the weeks before she was admitted, she has experienced status epilepticus (a life-threatening state of near continuous seizure activity), the most radical of all brain surgery on 31 August, and then following this surgery total paralysis on the  left side of her body.  In these same 100 days she has also learnt to sit, stand and walk again. It has been a busy few months.

Physically, with the exception of her left arm and hand, she is stronger and fitter than she has been for a long time.  She can now walk without experiencing leg seizures and today she was assessed as having 80% of the walking speed and endurance of the average 11 year old girl.  Over the last few weeks, we have been regulars at the hospital orthodics department to have her leg orthosis re-adjusted as her left leg muscles have continued to bulk up.

Cognitively, things are improving at a slower pace. By the end of each day (and often for periods during the day) the demands of her physical and cognitive rehabilitation leave her exhausted to the point where even a  simple conversation is beyond her capacity.  During these periods of cognitive fatigue, she cannot maintain eye contact, follow the thread of a conversation or even respond to questions.  As her brain recovers from the surgery and the left hemisphere continues to pick-up the functions of her now defunct right hemisphere, this cognitive fatigue should reduce and Freya will become more like her happy, bright former self.

In light of what her brain has been through over the past five years, we need to be patient and accept that full recovery is going to be a slow process.  We are really hoping that now she is home and out of the hospital environment and engaging in more normal interactions with friends, family and neighbours, her cognitive recovery will be given a healthy boost.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

a discharge date

Following our family meeting with Freya's doctors and therapists on Tuesday a discharge date has been agreed;  Freya will be leaving the Royal Children's Hospital next Friday, the 19th of November - 3 months and 1 week since admission and 2 months and 3 weeks since her surgery.  After such a long stay, the RCH has begun to feel like a second home, and while we're all keen to come home, I know Freya will miss the many nurses, doctors and therapists who have provided her with such support, kindness and encouragement over the last few months.  The hospital umbilical cord will not be severed abruptly though, the discharge plan that we will be given before we leave will include out-patient therapy appointments three times a week for the next couple of months.

In addition to the out-patient therapy we will also be given a rigorous schedule of physio and OT exercises to complete daily at home. As the doctors have explained to us, Freya's brain is currently going through a spurt of activity that is resulting in movement in her left arm, with almost daily improvements over the last week.  It is important that we capitalise on the new connections her left hemisphere is making before this spurt of activity slows down or stops.  The photo is Freya doing one of her physio exercises - putting weight on her left arm (and being kept company by Ella). 

To celebrate Freya's recovery from her surgery and triumph over the devastating epilepsy and encephalitis that has plagued most of her childhood, we are off to Noosa the day after hospital discharge.  A new 5 star resort has opened a couple of months ago, with a lagoon style pool - just the thing for continuing her hydrotherapy program.  The doctors agree it's a great idea too.  Ella doesn't seem to be too devastated by missing out on a week of school so close to the end of the year either.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

two triumphs

This weekend has been a good one for Freya, with two terrific milestones being reached.  The first is that it is now 2 months since Freya's hemispherectomy surgery, and 2 months since she has had any form of seizure.  It is hard to imagine that such a short time ago, her brain was so on fire from constant seizure activity that she could hardly walk 50 metres without experiencing a seizure in her leg.  Even in her sleep, she was continually woken by many seizures a night.  Given her surgeon's complete confidence in the success of the surgery, her medication is also being further reduced. Another of Freya's anti-epileptic medications is now being weaned (3 down, and 2 to go) and the plan of her neurologist is that she be medication-free by Christmas.  After years of increasing medications at increasing doses, it's great to be on the reverse cycle.

The second of the weekend events, is that Freya has started to gain a bit of movement in her left arm.  When she concentrates, she can now flex her arm at the elbow. This is exciting as it indicates her brain's left hemisphere is making the necessary new wiring to "talk" to her left arm.  Having the ability to control her arm at the elbow will also have big implications for it's functional use.  It is hoped that eventually she will be able to put her left arm on a table or desk, without having to lift it with the other arm.  The left arm can also become much more of a 'helper' arm if is not just dangling uselessly by her side.  Freya has been worried for sometime about the lack of progress in her arm, so it is really encouraging for her to experience this small amount of movement.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

home on the horizon

With the possibility that Freya will be discharged from the RCH in 3-4 weeks, all of her rehabilitation sessions will be directed to getting her ready to come home and function as independently as possible on her return.  We will be having some of her O.T. sessions here at home, so Freya can practice doing things such as making her own breakfast and making her bed by herself in own environment.  (I've been too embarrassed to tell Jane, the O.T. that these were things Freya actually didn't do by herself before the surgery!).

Very important will also be teaching Freya to safely navigate our winding staircase to the upstairs bedrooms.  She is beginning to re-learn the skill of walking up and down stairs in physiotherapy, but it will still be a couple of months before her left ankle is strong and she will be declared safe and steady enough to tackle the staircase at home.

Over the next few weeks, Freya will also be having a range of cognitive tests to establish if there are any particular areas that she will need additional assistance with next year at school.  We are expecting her to be challenged by maths concepts and visual spatial tasks, as these are functions that usually reside in the right brain, and often their transfer to the left brain can take some time.  Last Friday, Miss Sear, Margot Sheridan and the acting principal of Fairfield Primary School,  Anne Morton came to the hospital to meet with Anthony, myselfI and the Rehab. Unit's education co-ordinator to discuss Freya's transition back to school.  Thank you so much Rachael, Anne and Margot for your wonderful concern, support and enthusiasm for Freya's return to school - we are so grateful for all your efforts and ideas.

Freya has been missing school very much, and we really hope she will be well enough to join in some of the fun end of year activities, before returning for the serious stuff in 2011.

Monday, October 18, 2010

up and away

In the 6 weeks since the surgery that left her with a complete left-sided hemiparesis (paralysis), Freya has re-learnt the skill of walking independently.  Assisted by her ankle and foot orthosis (AFO) Freya's gait is now actually better than it was immediately before her surgery.  Proof of this came when we viewed video footage of Freya's walking made by the physiotherapists the day before her operation.  Anthony and I hadn't  realised just how badly Freya's limp had become in the last six months until we saw this video.

Everyday Freya wants to walk further and further, and today she achieved over a kilometre. The physios are actually telling Freya not to walk as much as she wants to, because physical fatigue is still a big issue and it important that she maintain a quality gait, which does tend to deteriorate as she becomes tired.  Being able to walk again has had a huge positive impact on Freya's mood and confidence, and has inspired a  determination in physio and OT that I had doubted she would have.  We are very proud of her.

Here is a photo of her taken today, in full stride.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

new hope for Rasmussen's Encephalitis (RE)

Tomorrow my sister Deirdre arrives home the US after attending the first major conference on Rasmussen's Encephalitis.  Deirdre and I have both been involved (Deirdre much more than me) in researching and writing background papers for the conference.  There has been very little research into the causes and medical cures for RE due (1) the rarity of the disease, and (2) a surgical cure is available through hemispherectomy surgery.  The problem is of course, that this surgical cure comes at a significant cost to the child, and it is a very blunt and non-targeted way of dealing with an immunological disease.  Also, this surgical cure has not changed much in the last 50 years.  We think 21st century medicine should be capable of providing a more sophisticated and less brutal approach to dealing with chronic inflammation in the brain than simply removing or disconnecting the effected half.

At the conference, over 50 of the world's key players in RE and top immunologists, biochemists and geneticists came together to discuss the future course of research that may yield a cure for RE.  They all agreed that RE is 'ripe' for research and a key group of doctors will meet again in February to agree a research agenda.  Top of the list will be setting up a process for researchers to gain access to brain tissue from RE children.  We are very glad that we insisted the Royal Children's Hospital store some of Freya's brain tissue for future research purposes.  We will happily donate it to a research brain tissue bank.

Some of the specialists at the conference also felt that specific treatments available for MS sufferers may potentially benefit RE children.  Deirdre tells me there was a great deal of excitement and enthusiasm at the conference for the type of research that could be conducted, and some believe that current treatments for other neuro-inflammatory disorders might be applicable for RE children.

Fingers crossed that this conference represents a turning point that will jump start research into understanding and curing RE - hopefully saving future children from this debilitating disease.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday 10th October

Today marks the end of Freya's 8th week at the Royal Children's Hospital. She was admitted two weeks prior to her scheduled surgery due to a severe exacerbation of her Rasmussen’s Encephalitis.

We are now well into the swing of the hospital routine and daily rehabilitation sessions. Weekends that have previously been slow and quiet at the hospital are much more pleasurable now that Freya has been granted weekend day leave. This weekend she came home for a few hours, went shopping for new shoes that will fit her AFO, went to the local park where she bumped into her best friend Edie and saw her cousins Hannah, Joel and Julia.
Conversation is still a little difficult for Freya, but she is slowly getting better at staying focused and ‘on topic’.

Here is a photo of Freya delighted by a cake made for her by her friend Adele. Thanks Adele it was delicious – you are a fantastic cook just like your Mum!

Monday, October 4, 2010

the odd couple

Freya is continuing to make great strides in her physical recovery from surgery.  She can now walk assisted for about twenty metres.  She tires easily and her left foot then begins to drag, but her AFO (ankle and foot orthosis) which arrives tomorrow should help significantly with this.  The physiotherapists have instructed Freya that she is not to attempt to walk unassisted until November, a frustratingly long time for her.

Here is a photo of Freya and her hospital friend Becky enjoying a bit of afternoon tea together - a couple of previously normal girls, one coping with the after effects of a shattered body (following a serious car accident) and the other from surgery to repair a "broken" brain, as Freya's surgeon Wirgina Maixner refers to it.  Wirginia uses this term to remind Freya that although the scars on her scalp are quickly healing, her brain has not recovered from the surgery and it will take several months to do so, just like a badly broken leg, but without the plaster cast.

Becky has many reasons to smile; on Friday she had her 'halo' removed and she is likely to be discharged in 2 or 3 weeks.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

new challenges

This week the occupational therapists have begun working with Freya to equip her with the skills to manage with the use of only one functional hand.  While it is hoped that Freya may regain some limited movement in her left hand, this hand will never recover to the point where there is any of the fine finger movement required for functional use.  At best, she may develop the ability to create a loose grip, but even this is not guaranteed.  From now on she will need to learn how to shower, dress, feed herself and perform all school-related tasks with the use of only her right hand.

While watching her struggling attempts in therapy to put on a t-shirt, cardigan or shoes with one hand (and a limp left arm) is it very difficult not to jump in and help her out.  This of course would not be very helpful in the longer term, as Freya needs to be able to function in daily life independently without our constant assistance.  Still, it's hard not to be effected by how frustrated and fed-up she is by the amount of effort now needed to do the small things we all take for granted.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

our first outing

Today we all left the hospital for the first time since Freya's surgery.  She is quickly getting over her flu and the doctors said that provided Freya covered her mouth and nose with a face mask whilst leaving the hospital we could take her out for a short time.  Her destination of choice was pizza in Carlton.  I've attached some photos of us making our escape and our 'parole'  lunch.  Freya will be re-tested on Wednesday for influenza and if the test is negative, she will be able to move around the hospital again.

I've also attached a photo of Freya in her helmet that she was fitted for on Friday.  The helmet became necessary following a couple of not-so clever incidents where she thought she could stand by herself.  As both incidents occured during the night, she must wear the helmet during the night and anytime she is not supervised.  The helmet will protect her fragile skull and brain from any potential fall during this critical recovery period.  As you can see by the expression on her face, she is rethinking the wisdom of her nocturnal hijinks.

 leaving the hospital

pizza tastes so much better in the sunshine

mmm...maybe I won't try out any of my tricks by myself again

Thursday, September 23, 2010

pressing the pause button

After developing a high temperature yesterday morning, the doctors ordered a nasal swap to test Freya for potential viruses and unfortunately the swab tested positive to Influenza A.  We are not sure where she managed to catch it, as we have been fanatical about handwashing, she is in a private room and I can't think of anyone she has been in contact with who was ill.  We are told that September is the peak flu season in Melbourne and this is evidenced by every spare bed on the neurology and rehab. floor now being occupied by children from the Children's Cancer Centre on the 6th floor.  It is not safe for these patients to to be accommodated with other immunosuppressed children receiving cancer treatment.

I have never considered the 8th floor of the hospital to be a particularly cheery place, but now with the arrival of these little children from the Cancer Centre, all sadly alike with their bald heads, white skin and nasal gastric tubes, I realise there is definitely worse places we could be.

Freya's flu means we have to press the pause button on all her rehabilitation sessions until she is well again.  Like anyone with the flu she is feverish, aching, tired and miserable.  This is a pity as tomorrow in physio we were due to learn how to tranfer Freya into our car - our ticket to freedom (at least for short periods at weekends).

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

3 weeks on

Today is 3 weeks since Freya's radical brain surgery.  In these 21 days it has been incredible to see the physical process of her recovery.  Everyday she is amazing us with progress that we did not expect to see for several weeks.  Yesterday in physio she stood unassisted from a sitting position, not using her right hand for support.  Today she can do this with ease.  With the support of the therapist she also walked about 3 metres.  Tomorow she will be casted for an AFO which is an ankle and foot orthosis - a moulded plastic brace that will support her weak left leg during it's recovery.  The physio has asked that the AFO be made "urgently" (probably about 2 weeks) as it is now clear that she will be ready for walking weeks before the therapists had anticipated.

The photos I've attached are already a bit dated.  The first is of Freya and Ella about 8 days post surgery and the other is of Freya sitting unsupported for the first time (and feeling very pleased).  Freya's lop-sided smile is typical after hemispherectomy surgery and usually resolves within 6 months.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

an overstimulated brain

On the recommendation of Freya's neurologists, we have had a very quiet weekend.  After a week of her sleeping very badly at night, the doctors have declared that her left hemisphere is "over-stimulated" and struggling to cope with all the extra connections it is needing to make to take over the tasks of her non-functioning right hemisphere.  Her left hemisphere is firing and not letting her calm and settle enough to get a good night's sleep, despite medication.  Even activities such as watching TV, listening to music or books were not recommended this weekend, as her brain needs the necessary down time to allow the rewiring to occur.  Unfortunately, this means we will be putting off visitors for a little while longer too. In itself, the  stimulation of the OT and physio is enormous at this early post surgery stage.

On another note, one of the right brain functions that we were told does not always transfer well from the right to the left hemisphere is facial recognition.  Some children who have had a right hemipherectomy will always struggle to recognise unfamiliar faces and have to develop compensating strategies to remember people they do not see regularly.  It is already clear that Freya's left hemisphere has no such problems - despite a rotating roster of about 20 or more nurses, Freya remembers the names of all of them.  When Anthony asked her whether she recognised them by their voices or their faces, she replied "their faces of course".

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

a goal scored!

Despite our scepticism that she was way off being able to sit independently, Freya can now sit by herself without support.  She cannot do it for too long, but yesterday she sat cross-legged on her bed playing with her ipad for at least 15 minutes.  In her wheelchair she no longer slumps to the side, but is able to stay upright without the support of pillows.  Her brain's left hemisphere is rewiring itself to make the necessary connections to her left side to give her neck, shoulder and trunk the necessary strength and balance to achieve this important milestone.  We have taken some photos that I will include in my next post.

Monday, September 13, 2010

a few goals

Today we had a meeting with the staff of the Rehab. Unit to discuss Freya's progress and map out some goals for her in-patient stay.  This meeting will occur every Tuesday morning and will be an opportunity for all those from the unit who are involved in Freya's care to come together to talk with Anthony and I about how she is tracking.  The short-term physical goals the OTs and PTs have set for Freya are to be:
1.  Sitting independently by the end of this week
2.  Standing with support by the end of next week
3.  Taking a few steps with support by the end of the following week.

From where we are now these seem like pretty ambitious goals, but we are assured by the team that they are achievable.  While Freya has agreed to sign up to the plan in principle, the difficult part will definitely be maintaining her motivation.  For all those who know Freya well, you will know that perseverance is not a quality she is over-familiar with, and unfortunately, there is no easy path on this trip.
Thank you to everyone for your encouraging and supportive blogs. (and I'm sorry that the mechanics has been such a pain for so many), now that Freya is much more alert and bright she loves being read the messages.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Getting around

We are getting around the hospital now that Freya can get in and out of her wheelchair with more ease.  She is now able to stand with support and swivel herself into the chair.  The support she needs from us is more for balance, because she takes all her weight herself indicating the return of strength to her left leg and hip.

The number of places to visit within the hospital is pretty limited, but she has made friends with another young girl in the rehab. unit., Beckie.  Beckie and Freya are only a couple of weeks apart in age and have already formed a bond.  Like most of the other children in the rehab. unit Beckie was involved in a serious car accident and sustained head and spinal injuries.  She is doing well, although it is likely to be another 6 weeks or so before the "halo" that is supporting her spine can be removed. There are only about 6 or 7 children in the rehab. unit and all except for Freya and a 9 year old boy (who had a stroke) are victims of rural car accidents.  Talking to these families, we realise how lucky we are to be local to the RCH with a trip home for us taking 15 minutes.  For these families, home is several hours away, and some have not even been home since the time of their accidents weeks or months ago.

Freya's other favourite place to visit is the RCH Children's Garden which is beautifully designed and maintained by Sarah Baldwin's sister Julie.  Julie is an amazing individual and is famous throughout the hospital for her devotion to the garden and getting the kids involved in gardening activities.  We can't wait for the weather to improve so we can spend more time out there with her, her volunteers and the other children.

Friday, September 10, 2010

some sad days

As we were told would occur, Freya has continued to ride the emotional rollercoaster over the last couple of days.  The reality is, that despite pre-surgery counselling, an 11 year old child has limited capacity to understand and rationalise the long term effects of hemispherectomy surgery.  An 11 year old brain operates almost exclusively in the here and now. 
For Freya, the loss of movement in her arm and hand and the loss of her peripheral vision in both eyes are all causing her distress.  She is anxious and easily startled by movement and noises in her periphery that she can no longer see.  Apparently children do adapt to this visual deficit quite quickly, but in the context of her total loss of ability to self-care and function since the surgery, it is understandably an additional reason for sadness.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Rasmussen's Encephalitis Children's Project

As I mentioned in my first blog entry, Freya’s hemispherectomy was a last resort after all the available treatements failed to control her Rasmussen’s Encephalitis (RE). For a long time we thought, surely, in the 21st century, there must be a better solution to chronic inflammation than disconnecting half a child’s brain. Unfortunately while there are a few treatments that can help, most do not control the disease in the longer term. Most RE children, like Freya, eventually have a hemispherectomy. Because of the rarity of RE there has not been any significant research into finding a non-surgical cure for this horrible disease.

Our belief that more should be done to find effective treatments for RE has led me and my sister, Deirdre, to become actively involved in the RE Children’s Project. This is a registered American charity that was established earlier this year by Seth Wohlberg. Seth is the father of 12-year old Grace, who had a complicated hemispherectomy for her RE. Seth has amazing initiative and determination, and has committed very significant personal funds, time and energy to organise a conference on RE, to be held in Salt Lake City from 6-8 October this year. Over 50 of the world’s leading neurologists, immunologists and other experts will be attending the conference, which will identify ‘next steps’ for research into RE. Deirdre will travel to the conference in October but it is too early in Freya’s recovery for me to go, as I originally planned.

The RE Children’s Project focuses on raising funds for high priority RE research. There is new evidence than many forms of uncontrollable epilepsy, not just RE, are caused by autoimmune-based inflammation. Therefore, it is hoped that any breakthroughs in treating RE, which is a rare and severe form of autoimmune epilepsy, may help with other more common epilepsies.

The website for the RE Children’s Project is . As an alternative to any gifts for Freya, perhaps you might think about making a small donation to the RE Children’s Project. Details of how to donate are on the website.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The hard work begins

Freya is now under the care of the Pediatric Rehabilitation Unit.  We have been given her weekly timetable which includes daily sessions with the physiotherapists, the OT, the speech therapist, the play and music therapists - so many therapists, and all of them lovely young women with endless enthusiasm, patience and kindness.

Freya is still battling a couple of infections but she is much more awake, brighter and beginning to be more like her old self.  She is making (bad) jokes, and being very charming to the nurses by telling each new nurse she sees how much she loves their hair (don't ask me why), but the compliment goes down a treat each time. We are also seeing more of her smile, which at this early stage is very lop-sided as a result of the surgery.  This asymmetry will correct in time with the help of the speech therapitst.

We saw Freya's neurosurgeon Wirginia Maixner yesterday who explained that movement is returning early to Freya's left leg first because the encephalitis had infiltrated the part of her right hemsiphere that controls the left leg some time ago.  This meant that her left hemisphere (now her only functioning hemisphere) was already doing some of the left leg work for it's diseased counterpart.  As the encephaltiis hadn't attacked the areas of the her brain controlling her arm, regaining some arm function will take longer and be a harder challenge.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The GG drops in

Today the Governor General took time from her busy schedule of sitting around waiting to confirm who will be our next Prime Minister to visit the children on the neurology ward of the Royal Children's Hospital.  The response by the kids to the GG and her sizeable entourage was a resounding lack of interest.  In fact, Freya slept through the whole commotion.  Much more interesting however, was a visit later in the morning from Millie the cocker spanial who created much excitement amongst the children. Unfortunately Freya slept through Millie's visit as well (although we do have a very cute photo of Millie on Freya's bed for her to "remember" the visit by).
Freya was due to be transferred to the care of the Pediatric Rehabilitation Unit today, but she is too unwell.  She is nauseous, dizzy, extremely tired and still in a fair amount of pain. We are hoping that she has a better day tomorrow.  On a more positive note, the doctors are so confident that Freya's surgery has stopped all seizure activity in her brain's right hemisphere that they are reducing her anti-epileptic medication immediately (normally, they wait about 6 weeks to be sure all seizure activity has stopped).  First medication to go will be the Topamax, or "Dopey-max" as it is not so affectionately known.  It is powerful anti-epileptic drug, but quite notorious for causing cognitive slowing and mental dullness.  Hoorah!  Good riddance Topamax.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Father's Day

Freya is beginning to wake properly after Tuesday’s surgery. This morning she asked for food, watched some TV and listened to me read her a story – engaging in lots of commentary as I read. Unfortunately being awake makes her much more aware of her pain, and it is a balance to keep her comfortable without making her too groggy.

Anthony declared this Father’s Day to be the best yet after he asked Freya to see whether she could move her left leg. She then lifted it clear off the bed! We called the nurse to show her Freya’s “trick” – she was so impressed she called one of the neurosurgeons who was on the ward.

Freya’s brain is already beginning to make the new connections necessary for movement to resume in her left side. If she were an adult these new connections would take months, years or quite possibly never be made.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A quiet saturday

Freya has continued to sleep most of today.  Her sleep cycle seems to be way off - with more wakeful periods during the night than during the day.  Wirginia has described Freya's post-surgery brain as "scrambled" and it will need to take time for her circadian rhythms to reset (hopefully not too long!).  Her brain is also firing off mixed messages about feeling on her left hand side.  Freya says she can feel touch on her arm and leg, even when they are not being touched.  Again, this should settle over the next few days.  Another deficit Freya has suffered as a result of the surgery is permanent loss of peripheral vision in both eyes.  Apparently, children accomodate this loss quite quickly by learning to turn their heads to see what they can no longer see in these visual fields.  It will however, be another major adjustment she will need to make.

If all goes well and she continues to be able to keep up her fluid intake,  the central line will be removed tomorrow.  This will be great, and definitely give Freya more movement in her neck and make her feel more comfortable.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Weeks End

Freya has slept all of today, only half-waking a few times. Although she is less wakeful than yesterday, the doctors are not concerned and have told us to expect days where she will be extremely tired at this early stage.
She also has a urinary tract infection from the catheter making her feel even sicker and more miserable than yesterday.
A small, but exciting sign that movement is already beginning to return to the paralysed side of Freya’s body was when she was able to lift her bottom off the bed. Strength and movement in both hips will be critical to getting her up and walking again.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Thursday 2 September

The next few days will be very tough.  While Freya is still sleeping most of the time, she is extremely nauseous and the hospital hasn't yet found a medication that will allow her to keep her anti-epileptic medication down.  The morphine she is receiving to control pain will be contributing to this nausea.

Freya has been on a combination of 4 anti-epileptics drugs for several years, and while the right side of her brain should be no longer capable of producing seizures it is still important that these medications be weaned slowly over a number of months.  Any surgery to the brain can induce new seizures, even from people who do not have epilepsy. As only one of her current medications can be put into her IV line getting her system to tolerate her epilepsy medication is the challenge of the day.

The end of the first day

Freya has continued to sleep most of today, waking only very briefly. She is very nauseous and it is difficult for her to open her eyes due both to the amount of sedation she is receiving and the facial swelling which by tomorrow will have given her 2 very black eyes.
A hemispherectomy is the most radical of all brain surgery. Freya’s traumatized brain will take time to recover over the next few weeks and months.Her left hemisphere will then need to begin the task of taking over many of the functions of her ‘decommissioned’ right hemisphere.  However, some functions will never transfer to the left hemisphere successfully, these will include fine finger movements in her left hand and higher order visual/spatial tasks.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Morning After

Freya is resting comfortably after yesterday’s surgery. She has woken briefly, taken a drink of water and asked whether she had her surgery yet. She will not wake fully for a couple of days. As expected at this early stage, Freya has no feeling or movement in her left arm, hand and leg. The gargantuan task of her rehabilitation will commence next week.

Surgery Day

Freya's neurosurgery is now complete.  She was wheeled into surgery after she was anaesthetised for an MRI scan at 8.00am.  Due to the constant seizure twitch in her left ankle and leg it was important that the scans be done while she was under anaesthetic to ensure the scans were not distorted by any movement (seizures activity stops under GA). At 8.00pm, almost 12 hours after the commencement of surgery, Wirginia Maixner saw us to report that the surgery had gone very smoothly with no complications. 

Freya returned to her hospital room at around 9.30pm and is still unconscious. The nurses will attempt to rouse her every half hour and she will probably have a CT scan in the middle of the night to check for blood clots.  Anthony is doing the night shift, so not much sleep for him!

Despite being very pale and her face beginning to swell, both Anthony and I think Freya looks serenely beautiful.  It is the first time in 3 years that her body has been still without the constant twitching in her left leg.
It is almost unfathomable to believe that the daily seizures that she has lived with for almost half her life are now over.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A long day before the longest of days

Today was a full day of appointments at the RCH.  We met with many of the surgical team who will be involved in Freya's surgery tomorrow.  The surgery is being conducted by Wirginia Maixner, of the the co-joined twins fame.  If she can successfully separate 2 toddlers with fused brains, we know Freya is in safe hands.  As Wirginia explained to Freya when she tentatively asked about the danger of the surgery and the risk of the "d" word (which she cannot bear to name) Wirgina replied,  "Freya, you are more at risk climbing the stairs or crossing the road than you are having this surgery.  I am very, very good".  Just what Anthony and I needed to hear from our surgeon, total confidence - forget about the modesty!

I hope the team all get a good nights rest because it will be a long surgery.  Wirginia is a slow and cautious surgeon and the surgery will be at least 12 hours, but possibly up to 14.  Due to the length of the surgery Freya will require blood transfusions through a central line in the artery in her neck. After the surgery she will be either transferred to the ICU for a couple of days, or if she is stable enough straight to the High Dependency Unit in the Neurology ward.  I will post as soon as news is available.

Thank you to everyone who has called, emailed and texted messages of support today, and especially the children of Grade 5/6S at Fairfield Primary who made Freya the happiest we have seen her in weeks with the handmade cards, puzzles, games and the beautifully crafted pillow.  Thank you Miss Sear for bringing the gifts into the hospital and cheering Freya up so fabulously before her difficult day.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Long Road

In 2 days time Freya will undergo life-changing surgery that cure of her of the chronic encephalitis she has suffered for the past five years. The radical surgery known as a “hemisperectomy” is disconnection of one hemisphere of the brain, and is currently the only known cure to halt the inflammatory process of the encephalitis and stop the relentless seizures caused by both theinflammation and subsequent scarring that occurs in the brain.

Chronic Encephalits or Rasmussen’s Encephalitis (RE - as it is more commonly known) is an exceptionally rare disease that effects about 1 in 500,000 children. The reason for the disease is unknown but there is fairly strong evidence to suggest it is an autoimmune disease, probably triggered by a viral infection. Like all autoimmune disease, the body continues to produce antibodies long after the culprit antigen has gone. For children like Freya, most of who are under 10 when they contract this disease (the average age is 6 and Freya was 6 years and one month), the results of this inflammatory process are uncontrolled seizures, weakness on one side of the body and cognitive decline. For another unknown reason, RE only affects one hemisphere of the brain. For some children, the damage can happen rapidly over a few months, or others like Freya the disease can bubble along for years, going quiet for periods, then causing severe seizure activity and new areas of inflammation and atrophy. The seizures originate from wherever in the brain the disease is active, or where the disease has left scarring or atrophy.  Most RE children end up having a variety of seizure types over the course of the disease.

A particularly miserable winter.

About 7 weeks ago, the disease flared again, this time violently. Freya was admitted to the RCH with a new, particularly horrible seizure type coming from the area of her brain that creates fear and visual/auditory hallucinations.  Sitting at her bedside, recording the seizure activity for the doctors, I think we counted over 200 on one day. From this time, we knew there was no going back, it was very obvious that the treatments she has been receiving at the RCH over the last few years were no longer holding the disease - surgery was the now inevitable and from our point of view, urgent.

Freya will undergo a Functional Hemispherectomy on Tuesday 31 August, which means the right side of her brain will be disconnected from the left hemisphere and her right hemisphere will no longer function. If there has been any fortune at all in getting such a horrible disease, it is that the disease has attacked her non-dominant hemisphere, meaning her language and memory will not be affected by the surgery. The most obvious immediate deficits she will suffer will be paralysis on the left side of her body. Her leg, arm and hand will initially have no movement. It is expected with intense physio and occupational therapy Freya will regain pretty good function in her left leg (and be able to walk, skip and run), a bit of function in her left arm, but her left hand will no longer be very useful, and fine finger movements impossible. Cognitively, many of the functions in the right hemisphere are visual-spatial, so just like me, she will be a little “challenged” by higher maths and directions.  Amazingly, children who have this surgery do not have any change to their personalities, and their intellectualy functioning improves because they do not need to take buckets of anti-epileptic medication, and the "good" hemisphere can work a whole lot better, without being impacted by constant seizures arising from it's diseased other half.

About one week after Freya's surgery, she will be transferred to the care of the RCH Pediatric Rehabilitation Team who will commence the intense physical therapy.  The rehab team have been fantastic, and very optimistic about how Freya will recover from the surgery.

We are also very grateful to the advice we have received from RE specialists around the world.  At times I have been overwhelmed by the kindness and concern expressed for a little girl from Melbourne, Australia these doctors have never met.