Freya in the Whitsunday's last year

Freya in the Whitsunday's last year

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.