A Central Oregon 4-year-old and brain cancer survivor is recovering from one of the most incomprehensible surgeries imaginable: the disconnection and removal of the right half of his brain.
Aaron Davenport‘s family made the decision to go with the risky procedure because the earlier removal of his brain tumor left him with debilitating seizures.
“What we call a hemispherectomy,” said Dr. Jeff Ojemann, Chief Medical Officer and Professor of Neurosurgery at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “That means the whole hemisphere, the whole side of the brain, is either removed or disconnected.”
Aaron was a strong candidate. His mother said Aaron would have as many as a dozen seizures per day. It was hurting his development and becoming life-threatening. But there was no guarantee it would work or how Aaron’s body would react.
Ojemann said this is a surgery only done at his hospital about 10-15 times a year.
“Thing that we’re probably the most uncertain about are these, what we call higher cognitive functions, things that are really uniquely human,” Ojemann said.
Right-side brain function, like getting dressed and memory, was on the line.
Ojemann and his team disconnected the part of Aaron’s brain responsible for the seizures. It was a four-hour procedure.
“There’s actually no barrier between the unhealthy and the healthy side,” Ojemann said. “So, you have to know where that edge is and then stay out of the tissue on the healthy side.”
So, how is Aaron doing now? He’s all smiles. Central Oregon Daily News talked to him and his family by Zoom as he was visiting Florida and Disneyworld on his Make A Wish trip.
“Oh, it’s such a relief,” his mother, Ashley said. “The anxiety that I experienced prior to that really significant surgery is unbelievable.
The big victory is this: Those debilitating seizures are gone. He hasn’t had one since the surgery.
“To now see him and to see how happy he is and enjoying life, is really fulfilling,” Ashley said.
“I think Aaron recovered extremely well and his recovery showed that it was a good decision. But also that it really is the case that the young brain can do a lot of things and recover very well,” Ojemann said.
And even though half of Aaron’s brain is gone, Ojemann said it doesn’t mean half the functioning is lost. The brain can somewhat re-wire — teaching the other side to pick up the slack.
“The brain’s pretty good at, when they’re that young and moving things like memory and language, talking, understanding to the other side,” Ojemann said.
But challenges remain. Aaron will never have full motor skills on his left side and will always wear braces to help him walk. And there is always uncertainty following major surgery.
“We don’t know how his brain, how the rest of his brain will do. We don’t know that in anybody when they’re this young,” Ojemann said.
That being said, Ojemann said there is every reason to be optimistic based on what he has seen in similar situations.
There is a chance for people to show their support for Aaron. On July 1, Redmond Japanese restaurant Oishi will donate all of their sales to help him raise money to buy an ADA play structure or adaptive bike.